Judge: Fort Smith violated law with removal of flag display

October 6, 2021 GMT

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — The city of Fort Smith violated state law with its removal last year of a historical display that included a Confederate flag, a judge ruled.

In an order filed Monday, Sebastian County Circuit Judge Gunner DeLay filed found that city is in violation of the Arkansas State Capitol and Historical Monument Protection Act, which didn’t take effect until April of this year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

DeLay found that the flags and bronze markers that were removed from Riverfront Park in April 2020 are a “historical monument” even though they are no longer displayed. The display was put up in 2001 and also included the French flag and old 15-star and 20-star American flags, among others.

This June, attorney Joey McCutchen filed a lawsuit alleging the city violated the new state law by not replacing the display or obtaining a waiver from the Arkansas History Commission.

DeLay found that the city’s “continued refusal” to obtained a waiver was a violation of the monument protection act.

An email exchange in June 2020 between City Administrator Carl Geffken, Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman and Parks Director Doug Reinert indicated the flags were initially removed because they were tattered and needed to be replaced.

Geffken stated in a Sept. 4, 2020, email that he and other officials discussed changing the flags flown at the park after the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. He also said his decision to remove the flags would maintain “a piece of history from potential harm.”

DeLay ordered the city to file a request for a waiver by Oct. 14 to determine the disposition of the display. Until the commission makes its decision, the city is prohibited from “destroying, selling, transferring, conveying, moving, or otherwise disposing of” any part of the display.

The city has 10 days to comply with the ruling.