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LOS ANGELES — A federal judge ruled that a veteran's First Amendment rights were violated when he was told he could not drape an upside-down American flag on a fence at a Department of Veterans Affairs complex.
Army veteran Robert Rosebrock, 68, has demonstrated every Sunday since March 2008 in front of a fence surrounding a large grassy lawn at the VA's sprawling compound in west Los Angeles. He is protesting the VA's refusal to develop land there into a homeless shelter.
Rosebrock, who sued the VA with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said he placed numerous American flags on the fence without issue for more than a year. But when he inverted the flag so the union stars were along the bottom, VA police told him to take it down and he was cited for "unauthorized demonstrations."
The flag is sometimes flown upside down as a distress signal.
U.S. District Judge James Otero issued a mixed ruling Thursday. While he found Rosebrock's free speech rights had been violated, the judge declined Rosebrock's request for an injunction that would have allowed him to display upside-down flags in the future.
Otero wrote that Rosebrock's "conviction to shine light on the plight of homeless veterans is undoubtedly laudable," but that allowing upside-down flags on the fence would not be in the public interest.
ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg said he was considering appealing the ruling. A call to the VA in Los Angeles was not immediately returned
Prosecutors dismissed Rosebrock's citations before he filed the lawsuit, which didn't seek any monetary damages.