Editor’s note: The following is a statement released Thursday evening by Oswego County Sheriff Don Hilton.
On Aug. 2, 2020, the Oswego County Sheriff’s Department marine patrol was providing security on Oneida Lake during a President Donald Trump Flotilla event. It is standard practice for our marine patrol to be on duty every weekend throughout the summer and to provide security for all on-the-water events. In this instance, I was on the marine patrol boat with our deputies. During the event, a participant handed us a flag, and I allowed it to be flown from the patrol boat during the event.
As I have previously stated, I did this to show support for the event participants and for our president, who has supported law enforcement at a time when many groups are unjustly vilifying our profession. To do so was my decision only, not my deputies’, and I take full and sole responsibility for it.
After the event, Oswego County Chairman James Weatherup reminded me that County policy prohibits the display of altered United States flags on Oswego County property. I understand that policy. Today I met with all members of the Oswego County Legislature and assured them it will not happen again. I have received many letters of both support and criticism. While I stand by my personal beliefs, I do regret that some people, veterans in particular, were uncomfortable with the display of an altered American flag. There was no disrespect intended.
Nevertheless, writing now not as Sheriff, but as an American citizen who has proudly spent his career serving the public as a law enforcement officer, this incident has inspired me to be even more vocal about the unjust and hypercritical criticism of police by anti-democracy groups and certain politicians who pander to them. I will do so on my own time, on my own dime… and as loudly as I can!
I respect the right of people to have a critical opinion of what I did – this is America after all, and freedom of speech is part of what the flag stands for. But let’s keep a clear-headed perspective here: I flew a political flag on taxpayers’ property, yet many of the people criticizing me for that also defend rioters who destroy taxpayers’ property! Is it a sign of people thinking reasonably when they support policies that excuse and set free those who commit criminal acts of violence and assault, while at the same time call for the termination of me and my deputies simply for flying a flag? It is not.
I am proud of each and every one of my deputies and officers, and of the service and sacrifices they make every day to keep the public safe. I honor and respect all the men and women of law enforcement I have served alongside over the past three decades. I am proud of my career serving the public. And I remain dedicated to continuing to impartially enforce the law, keep our communities safe. That will never change.
Oswego County Sheriff