Peace protester assaulted

A 42-year-old Coupeville man was arrested Saturday for assaulting a peace protester and driving a short distance with the protester on the hood of his car, according to the Coupeville Marshal’s Office.

This is second time that an altercation between an anti-war protester and a passerby has resulted in an arrest on Whidbey Island. Two weeks ago, a 51-year-old Anacortes man was arrested in Oak Harbor for allegedly pushing a protester. He pleaded not guilty to fourth-degree assault at a district court arraignment hearing last Wednesday.

Coupeville Marshal Lenny Marlborough said the 51-year-old victim was fixing her flag on the sidewalk at the intersection of Highway 20 and Main Street when the man drove by and saw it. The man apparently thought her “peace flag” was a U.S. flag, Marlborough said, and was upset that the woman had it on the ground, which would be a breach of flag etiquette had it been an American flag.

Marlborough said the man stopped his car and got out, started arguing with the woman and then wrestled the flag from her. The man put the flag in his car and tried to leave, but the woman blocked his car and demanded her flag back. The middle-aged woman, also a Coupeville resident, then climbed onto the hood of the car.

According to Marlborough, the suspect drove several hundred feet with the woman on the hood of his car. He finally stopped, exchanged some more heated words with the woman, but gave the flag back.

Marlborough said the man was arrested on suspicion of fourth-degree assault — for wrestling the woman for the flag — and reckless endangerment for driving with her on the hood of his car. The woman suffered a sore shoulder and was treated at Whidbey General Hospital.

The suspect’s attorney, Bill Hawkins of Oak Harbor, sent out a press release about the case Tuesday. While the facts are largely the same as Marshal Marlborough’s version of events, Hawkins said he wanted to explain the suspect’s motivation for his actions.

“The Marshal’s Office makes it sound like he was a motorist was out of control,” Hawkins said, “but that was definitely not the case.”

Hawkins pointed out that his client is a retired military man and a strong supporter of U.S. troops. He said the woman had the flag on the ground and was kneeling over it on one knee. He said the man and several other people yelled for the woman to take the flag off the ground, but she refused.

“It’s an emotional issue,” he said, “and seeing someone treat the flag that way is pretty upsetting.”

Hawkins admitted that his client did take the flag from the woman and “inched forward” with her on the hood. He said the man was surprised when he realized that it wasn’t an American flag. The so-called “peace flag” has a peace symbol instead of 50 stars.

“His reaction was, ‘Oh my God, it’s not a real flag,’” Hawkins said.

Both Hawkins and Marlborough say emotions have been running high because of the war and the competing pro-troops and anti-war protests that are ongoing in Coupeville. But Marlborough points out that it’s not illegal to put a flag on the ground or even burn it. After all, he said the troops are fighting and dying for freedom, and perhaps the greatest freedom of all is freedom of speech.

“Both sides need to realize that everyone is fighting for freedom,” he said.

The intersection of Main Street and the highway has been a popular place for protesting since months before the war even began. Marlborough said most of the protesters have expressed anti-war sentiments, but lately there’s been sporadic pro-troops flag-wavers at the corner.

Marlborough said he plans to increase patrols in the area. “I’m not happy to see that it went this way,” he said.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611.

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