Over 3.5 million readers this year!

Rock, flag, eagle: State to dismiss charges against flag-planting Casper vet

The Casper native and Marine Corps veteran was charged criminally after installing an American flag on Independence Rock last summer and modifying an existing concrete pad to do.

Attorney Craig Silva and client Paul T. Williams in circuit court on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 (Greg Hirst, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — The State of Wyoming will move to dismiss criminal charges against a Casper native and Marine Corps veteran who twice installed an American flag on Independence Rock last summer and modified an existing concrete pad to do so.

Paul T. Williams, 61, was formally charged with defacing or altering a landmark, a misdemeanor, in Natrona County Circuit Court last November.

A jury trial was scheduled for Thursday. 

On Wednesday, Judge Brian Christensen heard oral arguments from Williams’s attorney, Craig Silva, who challenged the applicability of the statute to the case at hand. 

Hearing the argument, Judge Christensen agreed. “I can’t go forward with a jury trial under the theory the state is presenting,” he said. Assistant DA Sam Forschner agreed to dismiss the charges without prejudice, meaning the state could refile charges under another theory.

Williams, a U.S. Post Office retiree, told Oil City News that he first installed a flag on an existing concrete pad on the monument in the lead-up to the Fourth of July weekend last year. He said the pad had been installed by the Rawlins-based Elks Lodge in 1940.

Later, he found that the flag had been removed and the tube that held the flag cut away. He thought it was possibly due to the wind. 

Williams was charged with returning to the site on Sept. 5 and “drilling into the concrete pad on top of the historic site without permission or knowledge of Wyoming State Parks, the managing entity of the site, or the National Historic Landmark’s program which is monitored by the National Parks Service,” the charging document states.

Williams said none of his work on the concrete pad — filing some metal and installing a few bolts —altered the granite monument itself. He said he also spent about $600 for a new flag with a solar light on top so it would be properly lit at night.

Williams said he was charged after calling a state parks official and asking about why the flag was gone, thereby identifying himself as the responsible actor. 

The charging document states that uniformed volunteer interpreters inquired with Williams about his activities on Sept. 5. “None of them told him not to do it, and one volunteer admitted he may have said it was a good idea,” the affidavit said.

Silva filed for dismissal, arguing that the terminology in the charging statute relates to surveying and not to historical monuments.

The charging statute reads:

A person is guilty of altering landmarks if, with intent to destroy or deface the mark on a monument, landmark or bearing-tree designating the corner or boundary of a tract of land, he knowingly:

1. Displaces the monument or landmark;

2. Defaces or alters the mark; or

3. Breaks, cuts down or removes the monument, landmark or bearing-tree.

Based on the syntax of the written statute, Silva argued that “monument” or “landmark” are exclusively surveying terms denoting objects which mark the corner or boundary of a tract of land. 

The state had argued to define “monument” as “anything by which the memory of a person, thing, idea, art science, or event is preserved or perpetuated,” according to proposed jury instructions.

Christensen agreed that the state’s definition was “too vague” and “stretches the meaning of the statute.”

Assistant DA Sam Forshner said the state would file to dismiss the current charges.

Williams told Oil City News after the hearing that he had faith that Silva would prevail.

Carlo Migliaccio, a superintendent for Natrona County’s state parks, did not file the charges but was familiar with the case and spoke to Oil City News last November.

“What I’d like people to know is we’re always willing to talk with people about what we can do or can’t do [on state parks land],” Migliaccio said. “The reason we ask them to go through official channels is that these, our landmarks, are our public and natural heritage; they belong to everybody.”