Trial postponed in Gay Pride flag tampering case

Donnie Lee Barrigar poses for a photo in June in front of Watertown City Hall. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The trial of a local man accused of criminal tampering when he took down a Gay Pride flag that hung in front of City Hall last year was adjourned Monday.

Donnie Lee Barrigar, of Union Street, was charged with third-degree criminal tampering on June 23 after he allegedly took down the flag that hung in front of City Hall in celebration of Gay Pride.

His attorney, John W. Hallett, said Monday that the trial was adjourned until June 1 after an incident with security at the Dulles State Office Building, where the trial is being held because of COVID-19 restrictions at City Hall.

His client was trying to enter the building when building security stopped Mr. Barrigar, notifying him that he was “red-flagged” and had to be escorted upstairs with an armed security officer, Mr. Hallett said. The incident occurred in front of the jury pool, so it would have been prejudicial against his client, he said.

“I don’t know why this wasn’t settled before today,” he said. “I’m upset because it was ready to go and all set to get it over with.”

Mr. Hallett said he didn’t know why Mr. Barrigar was “red-flagged,” and does not know what that means.

City Court officials confirmed the trial was adjourned but didn’t know why.

Local state office building officials referred all questions to the state Office of General Services press office.

In an email, Joseph Brill, an OGS spokesman, said Mr. Barrigar had to be escorted in the building because of a “an incident unrelated to the trial” at the building but refused to comment about its specifics. New security protocols are being putting into place so the situation won’t occu again. “They will not be waiting in an area where they are likely to encounter members of the jury pool in the future,” he said in the email.

It was the first time that the state office building was going to be used for a city court proceeding, Mr. Brill said.

At the time of his arrest last year, Mr. Barrigar said he was well within his constitutional rights to take down the flag. He insisted that he’s protected by his First Amendment rights to use the Gay Pride flag in his protest, saying he gets his views about homosexuality from his religious beliefs.

City Court Judge Anthony M. Neddo, who is presiding over the jury trial, ruled that argument could not be used by the defendant’s attorney during the trial.

Mr. Barrigar has pleaded not guilty. He’s accused of lowering the Pride flag and stuffing it into a City Hall mailbox. The trial is expected to last less than two days.

Mr. Barrigar’s actions prompted more than 150 LGBTQ+ supporters to come together in a show of solidarity to protest what he did. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also offered to help the state police with the investigation into Mr. Barrigar’s action. The governor called him a bigot.

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