MISSOULA, Mont. — An Army veteran charged with assaulting a 13-year-old boy who refused to remove his hat during the national anthem believed he was doing what President Donald Trump wanted him to do, his attorney said.
Attorney Lance Jasper told the Missoulian he will seek a mental health evaluation for Curt Brockway, a veteran who became caught up in the heightened animosity and rhetoric gripping the nation, and convinced himself that he was following the president’s orders.
"His commander in chief is telling people that if they kneel, they should be fired, or if they burn a flag, they should be punished," Jasper said.
Jasper added that Brockway "certainly didn't understand it was a crime."
Brockway, 39, told a sheriff's deputy that he asked the boy to remove his hat out of respect for the national anthem before the start of the county rodeo, Mineral County Attorney Ellen Donohue wrote in the document describing the attack.
The boy cursed at Brockway in response, and the man grabbed him by the throat, "lifted him into the air and slammed the boy into the ground," Donohue wrote.
Prosecutors said the boy was airlifted to a hospital for a possible concussion and skull fracture. His condition was not immediately known.
Brockway suffered a traumatic brain injury in a vehicle crash in 2000 that has affected his decision making, Jasper said, and he plans to raise that in his client’s defense.
Jasper's comments Wednesday came as prosecutors formally charged Brockway with assault on a minor, a felony that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence and a $50,000 fine upon conviction.
A person who answered the phone at Jasper's office Thursday said the attorney was unavailable for additional comment.
Brockway, who is charged with felony assault on a minor, is a registered violent offender after being convicted of a 2010 charge of assault with a weapon.
He was scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 14, when he’ll be asked to enter a plea.
Conduct during the playing of the national anthem has been an issue in recent years, with some NFL players kneeling to protest police brutality. Trump once called for NFL owners to fire players who kneel or engage in other acts of protest during the anthem.
“Trump never necessarily says go hurt somebody, but the message is absolutely clear,” Jasper said. “I am certain of the fact that (Brockway) was doing what he believed he was told to do, essentially, by the president. ... Everyone should learn to dial it down a little bit, from the president to Mineral County.”