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Police: Flag-burning protester arrested near Clinton rally site

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Jason Cato | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh police take a man into custody Saturday afternoon for allegedly attempting to burn an American flag before the arrival of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

A protester was arrested Saturday afternoon before the Hillary Clinton rally in Pittsburgh after he got into a scuffle with another protester who tried to stop him from burning an American flag.

The man, whom police and court records identified as Joshua Sturman, 23, of Westlake Village, Calif., approached a group of Donald Trump supporters protesting shortly before 5:15 p.m. near 10th and Penn avenues. Clinton was scheduled to appear Saturday evening at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center .

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Emily Schaffer said Sturman pulled out an American flag and attempted to light it on fire.

It is not a crime in the United States to burn an American flag.

One of the other protesters, a Trump supporter, tried to grab the flag from him because he feared for the group’s safety, Schaffer said, and Sturman tackled him.

Cellphone video shows the suspect, wearing a white T-shirt with a red bandana over his face, struggling with someone wearing a backpack before falling to the ground and crashing into a planter.

Richard Dillon, 68, of Ross tumbled to the ground with the man.

“Symbolically, he was saying, ‘I will burn down everything you stand for’ — beginning with the flag, Old Glory,” said Dillon, an early Tea Party organizer in Pittsburgh. “We cannot let the country be commandeered by people like that.”

Pro-Trump protester Tricia Cunningham of Apollo said she saw the suspect trying to light the flag. She said she hit it with her protest sign because she “didn’t know if it was laced with gas or something.”

“You ain’t burning our flag. I’m the daughter of a Marine,” said Cunningham, 43, who runs the Citizens 4 Trump office in Monroeville. “There is no First Amendment when it comes to destroying the United States, as far as I am concerned.”

Schaffer said the man would be charged with reckless endangerment, risking a catastrophe and disorderly conduct.

Matthew Santoni and Jason Cato are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].

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