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U.S. flag on railing gets fans booted from Bucs game

Quarterback Brad Johnson wasn't the only person who got yanked Sunday.

Like other Buccaneers fans at Raymond James Stadium, Kenneth Hill was enduring the team's woeful performance when a security guard caught his attention.

"You've got to take your flag down," the guard told Hill, who had an American flag tied to the railing in front of him in the first row of the upper deck.

Hill, a Pinellas Park resident and a Bucs season ticket holder since 1989, said he has been hanging the flag during games since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

What happened next resulted in two families being thrown out of the stadium and another fan being arrested on charges of punching police officers. It also raised questions about a Bucs policy that some view as unpatriotic.

Hill and the police give different accounts of Sunday's incident.

Hill said he told the security guard that he was allowed to hang the flag and tried to make his way to the end of the aisle to speak to a manager. Someone with the Tampa Sports Authority told him two years ago that he could hang the flag there, he said.

Meanwhile, an off-duty Temple Terrace police officer working a security detail at the stadium started cutting the flag down.

"Someone yelled, "That's not my flag, but this is a bunch of bulls---,' " Hill said.

At that point, officers from the Tampa and Temple Terrace police departments told Hill they were escorting him out, Hill said. His wife and 15-year-old son went with him.

At the same time, Hill family friend Ray Brosan of St. Petersburg also was asked by police to leave, said his wife, Dolly, who was at his side.

"My husband says, "This is wrong, you guys are wrong,' " said Dolly Brosan, who is an editorial assistant at the St. Petersburg Times. "We were voicing our opinion that this is the American flag."

Both she and Hill said they used no swear words and were not confrontational.

"I think they just overreacted," Brosan said.

Police accounts differ.

The "whole group" was "very confrontational," said Temple Terrace Police Chief Tony Velong. Several people in the group were cursing, he said.

While Velong said he also feels patriotic about the flag, he said the officers were doing their jobs.

The security guard who initially asked Hill to take the flag down was enforcing a long-standing Bucs rule "that nothing be attached to the railing," said Barbara Casey, spokeswoman for the TSA.

TSA officials consulted with a Bucs representative as the dispute unfolded, and the representative agreed it should come down, Casey said. She said she can't address any past instances where Hill hung the flag off the railing.

The rule comes down to safety and consideration, said Jeff Kamis, a spokesman for the Bucs.

"We don't want to create a situation where it obstructs someone's view," Kamis said. And sometimes people put weighted objects on flags to keep them from flying away. If they fell on someone's head, he said, they could get hurt.

Hill said the 2- by 4-foot flag was not blocking anyone's view and had no weights in it. He said the rule seems unpatriotic.

"I've even had police officers, when I put the flag up, shake my hand and say thanks," Hill said. "I could understand if it were an ugly banner or a sign painted on a sheet, but for goodness' sakes, this is the American flag."

Hill and the Brosans were asked to submit their drivers' licenses so officials could see if they had criminal records, Hill said. Then they were told to leave the stadium.

Another man left in handcuffs.

Rickie Maness, 51, a U.S. Customs agent from Fort Myers, was arrested after police said he struck officers in the nose and groin with a closed fist.

Maness, who not connected to Hill's group of friends, smelled heavily of alcohol and had been cursing and pushing an officer called to help with the flag incident, according to Temple Terrace police. Tampa police had to stun him with a Taser before officers could restrain him, police said.

Maness later left a Hillsborough County jail on $6,000 bail. He was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence.

As for Hill and his friends, their season tickets are still good, Kamis said.

Hill plans to be back in two weeks for the next home game.

"With my flag," he said.