Pataskala, OH – Five years after Kirkersville Police Chief Steven Eric DiSario was murdered in the line of duty, a neighborhood homeowner’s association (HOA) ordered his father to take down the Thin Blue Line flag flying on his property in memory of his son during Police Week.
“It’s been flying since the 12th of May 2017,” Thomas DiSario told WCMH, referencing the date that Chief DiSario was killed in the line of duty.
“The only time it comes down [is] if it’s worn out and I buy a new one and put it back up,” the father explained.
Chief DiSario and two other victims were killed by Thomas Hartless, a convicted domestic abuser who had been released from jail two months earlier, WSYX reported.
Hartless, a convicted batterer, had been sentenced to two more months in jail but was released early from his 90-day sentence for domestic violence.
On May 12, 2017, Hartless took two other people hostage at gunpoint in a wooded area behind the nursing home where his former girlfriend worked, the Associated Press reported.
Chief DiSario responded to a call for a man with a gun in the area and is believed to have encountered his killer.
The chief’s last radio communication with the dispatcher was when he said he had the suspect in sight, the Associated Press reported.
The hostages were able to escape when Hartless fired on Chief DiSario.
Responding officers found their police chief down on the street and then responded to a report of a gunman at the nearby Pine Kirk Care Center, the Associated Press reported.
Hartless entered the nursing home and fatally shot his ex-girlfriend and a nurse before he took his own life, according to the Newark Advocate.
“He was answering a call in Kirkersville, and he was shot and murdered as he got there. So, he didn’t even know it was coming,” his father told WCMH.
Chief DiSario was 38 years old and had six children and another on the way when he was murdered five years ago.
Law enforcement colleagues of the fallen police chief gifted his father with a Thin Blue Line flag shortly after Chief DiSario was killed in the line of duty, WCMH reported.
Thomas DiSario said he hasn’t had any complaints about it over the past five years.
He said he took his flags down over the winter because the flag pole had become bent, but the new pole went in and the Thin Blue Line was flying to honor his son before Police Week began in mid-May, WCMH reported.
On Saturday, the hero’s father said he found a man in his front yard taking down the Thin Blue Line flag and the American flag that had been flying above it.
“I had a gentleman come in my yard, lower the flags, and [he] wiped his face on them,” Thomas DiSario told WCMH. “I, in turn, asked him to leave. He would not, and I put him out of my yard.”
“He came back… sat on my rock, then he proceeded to get up and take the flags down again, and I stopped him and put him out of my yard,” the father explained.
He said he eventually had to call the Licking County Sheriff’s Office and they sent a deputy over to Thomas DiSario’s home, WCMH reported.
The man left before the deputy arrived.
Neighbors helped describe the suspect to the deputy but authorities weren’t able to locate him.
Two days later, Thomas DiSario received a letter from his HOA that said he had to take down the Thin Blue Line flag because it was considered a political sign and a violation of neighborhood rules, WCMH reported.
“The political sign in the form of a flag must be removed from your property,” the letter read. “The flag on your pole is not a United States Flag. It is a political statement. Please remove the flag from your property.”
Thomas DiSario said he was shocked he was being harassed for flying a memorial flag to a murdered local hero, WCMH reported.
“I spent 23 years in the military, and there’s no way shape or form that flag is being flown disrespectful at all,” he said. “It has a 4×6 American flag above it, and the police flag is a 3×5 below it. It is no bigger than the top flag.”
“It represents my son and nothing else. So I don’t know why everybody is now harassing me that I have to take it down,” the angry father added.
Omni Community Association Managers President David Dye said the man who tried to remove the flags from Thomas DiSario’s property wasn’t affiliated with the HOA, WCMH reported.
But he said the HOA had received a complaint about the Thin Blue Line flag and that was why Thomas DiSario got an order to take it down.
“They bought into the community with rules,” Dye told WCMH. “He agreed by buying in this community that he can’t display what he wants to display.”
He explained that a flag can be interpreted as a sign.
“Sometimes signs masquerade as flags or as light displays, as examples,” Dye said. “The board has adopted this and, as a sign, we don’t get to judge what it says.”
“We have had to ask people to remove a sign advertising a nativity display, as an example,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter whether we agree. If it’s a sign, you are not allowed to post it, according to the deed restrictions.”
Thomas DiSario has not removed his Thin Blue Line flag from his flagpole, WCMH reported.