Profane flags: ‘officers cannot issue citations’ | News

GATLINBURG — The consensus among municipal officials is that not much can be done about the “profane flags” mounted on some drivers’ vehicles.

Police in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville have received recent reports of flags reading “F- – – Biden.”

However, none have issued citations.

At the March 16 commission meeting, Gatlinburg resident John Northcote addressed commissioners with his concern about the “profane flags” he has seen, telling them that the vehicles seem to mostly be in town on weekends.

He relayed that he had spoken previously with Gatlinburg Police Chief Randall Brackins, and Northcote thought at the time that officers had issued one citation and one warning the previous weekend. That turned out not to be the case.

City attorney Ron Sharp told commissioners during the meeting that Tennessee state law allows a fine of $50 for a violation of municipal obscenity codes but does not allow items to be confiscated. Northcote had requested the flags be taken from those found in violation of Gatlinburg Municipal Code 11-903.

On Tuesday, Gatlinburg officials released a statement in response to a request from The Mountain Press for information regarding another report of the same flag on March 27.

They confirmed a report was filed on that date, then stated: “No action was taken. The officer directing traffic noticed the vehicle but was not able to make contact with the driver.”

The statement provided an update regarding GPD’s approach to the issue: “Per legal guidance given by the city attorney, officers cannot issue citations for the possession and display of these flags. When possible, however, the officers are requesting that these flags not be displayed within city limits.”

Northcote had noted during his time in front of commissioners that GPD officers came into his retail store approximately three to five years ago. He was given a verbal warning about merchandise bearing the phrases “A–hole’s Garage” and “A–hole’s Neighbor.”

Speaking with The Mountain Press on Monday, Northcote said he covered a portion of the merchandise with tape. He continues to sell the items.

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Northcote stressed that he does not have grievances with any city staffers, police officers or commissioners — he simply would like to see something done about the flags.

“This isn’t a political thing … I don’t have an agenda … If we’re trying to promote a family atmosphere, we should do something about this,” Northcote said the day before Gatlinburg officials released the statement indicating that citations cannot be written.

In its marketing, Gatlinburg positions itself as a tourism destination for those with children.

Its website reads, in part: “Who says you can’t have it all? Gatlinburg offers outdoor adventures, kid-friendly attractions and laid-back scenic charms that keep families, friends and couples coming back year after year.”

Pigeon Forge — ‘looking at options’Pigeon Forge Police Chief Richard Catlett likewise has seen officers get reports of the flags observed in Gatlinburg.

“We have received a few complaints, mostly on the flags,” he said on Tuesday. “We haven’t been issuing citations because we don’t have an ordinance that would cover that.

“I have talked with our city attorney, and he believes this falls under their First Amendment right,” Catlett continued. “We encourage those that have the flags not to fly them, but the political climate right now is really divided so they are still flying them. We are looking at options we may have in the future to see what we can do.”

Sevierville — ‘likely constitutionally protected’“We are aware of reports of trucks in the area displaying flags containing vulgar language,” Sevierville spokesperson Bob Stahlke said on Tuesday.

“Regarding complaints, the Sevierville Police Department received a complaint on their Facebook page on March 22 regarding a truck displaying a flag that included the words ‘F–k Biden.’ No officer contact was made with that vehicle.

“After careful review of existing laws and in consultation with the city attorney, we feel that this is likely constitutionally protected speech,” Stahlke continued. “Therefore, although we feel the language used is very inappropriate, issuing a citation would not be warranted.”

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