WAUSAU, Wis. – An American flag flown upside down as a protest in a northern Wisconsin village was seized by police before a Fourth of July parade and the businessman who flew it — an Iraq war veteran — claims the officers trespassed and stole his property.
A day after the parade, police returned the flag and the man's protest — over a liquor license — continued.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is considering legal action against the village of Crivitz for violating Vito Congine Jr.'s' First Amendment rights, Executive Director Chris Ahmuty said.
"It is not often that you see something this blatant," Ahmuty said.
In mid-June, Congine, 46, began flying the flag upside down — an accepted way to signal distress — outside the restaurant he wants to open in Crivitz, a village of about 1,000 people some 65 miles north of Green Bay.
He said his distress is likely bankruptcy because the village board refused to grant him a liquor license after he spent nearly $200,000 to buy and remodel a downtown building for an Italian supper club.
Congine's upside-down-flag represents distress to him; to others in town, it represents disrespect of the flag.
Hours before a Fourth of July parade, four police officers went to Congine's property and removed the flag under the advice of Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey.
Neighbor Steven Klein watched in disbelief.
"I said, 'What are you doing?' Klein said. "They said, 'It is none of your business.'"
The next day, police returned the flag.
Brey declined comment Friday.
Marinette County Sheriff Jim Kanikula said it was not illegal to fly the flag upside down but people were upset and it was the Fourth of July.
"It is illegal to cause a disruption," he said.
The parade went on without any problems, Kanikula said.
Village President John Deschane, 60, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, said many people in town believe it's disrespectful to fly the flag upside down.
"If he wants to protest, let him protest but find a different way to do it," Deschane said.
Congine, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq in 2004, said he intends to keep flying the flag upside down.
"It is pretty bad when I go and fight a tyrannical government somewhere else," Congine said, "and then I come home to find it right here at my front door."