Date: October 13, 2010
Byline: Anthony Colarossi
Flag theft vet: Winter Park veteran charged with theft after removing tattered American flag he found offensive
Karl Edward Baldner didn't like what he saw, a tattered and torn American flag flying from a small business across from the Goldenrod Post Office just east of Winter Park.
The U.S. Army veteran strongly believes the flag should be displayed properly and in the summer of 2009, took it upon himself to let the business owner know the beat-up old flag ought to be taken down. When it was not, Baldner decided to remove it himself.
Baldner said he intended to replace the flag with another one that had been draped over a fallen soldier.
After removing the flag, Baldner left a note behind, stating, "Please have respect for the American flag and don't display our flag in such a condition. It disgraces our nation." Baldner left his name and number with the note.
"I felt for sure he'd call me, but he didn't call me," Baldner said Wednesday. "He called the police."
Baldner recalls being questioned by law enforcement and admitting to the deputy who called that he took the flag. Still, Baldner thought the matter was too insignificant to cause him serious trouble — until he was served with a summons this summer.
The State Attorney's Office is charging Baldner with petit theft, a misdemeanor. He is scheduled to return to court for trial on the case Tuesday.
Baldner, 49, insists he will not accept a plea deal.
"Yes, I would go to jail for my flag," he said, though he risks losing his government-subsidized housing if convicted. "What I did was the right thing and that's why I'm so adamant and I'm angry. I don't go around intentionally trying to break the law."
Baldner has had a difficult life. He lives on about $850 a month. He is on Social Security disability. He suffers from mental illness and is unable to hold a job as a result. He also has a drug addiction for which he participates in a 12-step program and attends meetings daily. He said he pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge in Texas years ago.
But none of his past problems, Baldner insists, has anything to do with why he took that flag last year and brought it to the Department of Veterans Affairs to be retired and properly destroyed.
Still, as much as that flag offended Baldner, his actions bothered John Barry Granfield, the flag's owner. In an August 2009 statement to the Orange County Sheriff's Office, Granfield said a man "stormed into" his real estate office and "in a threatening tone told me to take down my flag."
Granfield said he told Baldner the country has been going through difficult times and he felt the weathered flag accurately depicted the nation's current situation.
Granfield went away for a family trip, and when he returned, found the flag gone, and Baldner's note, "telling me I am disgracing our nation," according to his statement.
His business apparently moved from the location on Citrus Avenue. Granfield could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Baldner denies the confrontation. "I never have met that man before," he said, adding that the only contact he's ever had with the owner was two notes he left at the business.
The deputy handling the case noted in a report that Granfield was advised of "alternate solutions to this problem by speaking with defendant Baldner." But Granfield was "adamant about pursuing charges."
State Attorney's Office spokeswoman Danielle Tavernier said, "both parties feel strongly about the case and despite the defendant's motive, it's still considered a classic theft because someone can't decide what to do with another's property. Knowing this, our office will let the citizens/jury decide."
Baldner's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Margaret Garner called Baldner a "patriot" and said his intentions were pure and altruistic. "I'm proud to represent him," she said.
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