Date: October 15, 2010
Byline: Anthony Colarossi
Charge dropped against man who removed tattered American flag - Orlando Sentinel
Prosecutors Friday dropped the theft charge filed against a Winter Park-area man who removed a tattered American flag from a business last year and had the flag destroyed because he was offended by its condition.
Now, Karl Edward Baldner will not go to trial as originally expected Tuesday.
"Even though the facts alleged could constitute a theft, this case involves not only theft, but fundamental issues of free speech and overarching patriotic issues," reads a court document released late Friday and signed by Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar, dropping the misdemeanor charge.
"Based on prior statements of the defendant and consultation with the victim, I believe the two parties are capable of reaching an amicable resolution in this matter," Lamar stated. "This prosecution appears to be an impediment to such a resolution."
Baldner, 49, openly admitted to removing an old, weathered flag from a real-estate business near the Goldenrod Post Office in the summer of 2009. Nearly a year later, he was charged with petty theft, a misdemeanor.
But Baldner said he was just trying to remove a flag he found to be in extremely poor shape, a condition he called disgraceful and disrespectful.
On Friday, Baldner said he was "ecstatic" that the charge against him was dropped and hoped his case illustrated to others the importance of respecting the American flag.
"Our flag is our national icon. It represents everything the United States stands for," he said. "You should take care of it and treasure it and revere it."
Baldner, a disabled U.S. Army veteran, said his lawyer strongly suggested that he replace the destroyed flag, and he intends to do that.
"I'm going to apologize for taking something dear to him, but I'm not going to apologize for taking it down," he said. "He shouldn't have been flying the flag like that."
If he were to see a tattered flag like that today, Baldner said he would likely approach the owner directly and talk about taking down the old flag and replacing it with a new one. He would not remove it, he said.
Baldner took the flag down from the real-estate business and left a note saying the condition of the flag "disgraces our nation." He also left his name and number on the note. That's how authorities eventually contacted him.
The flag's owner, John Barry Granfield, originally called for Baldner's prosecution, saying Thursday that he meant no disrespect to the flag, but that "I think it's the right thing to let him know you don't do this to people."
Granfield said he could not afford to replace the flag he had flying last year and gave a statement in reporting the incident that he was flying the tattered flag to represent the troubled state of the country.
Granfield could not be reached for comment Friday.
"It was wrong for me to go on the man's property and take it down," Baldner said. "But just straight up, you can't fly a flag like that."
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