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Veteran detained for intervening at protest where demonstrators walked on American flag

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Posted at 6:04 PM, Apr 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-19 20:04:53-04

VALDOSTA, Ga. -- Georgia police detained an Air Force veteran after she intervened in a protest where demonstrators were walking on an American flag, and cell phone video captured footage of the altercation.

Michelle Manhart is a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and when she saw a friend post a photo to Facebook showing protesters walking on an American flag she felt like she had to do something.

Manhart said she repeatedly asked Valdosta State University to stop the protesters from using the flag in their protest, as she felt it was disgraceful to treat the flag that way. Friday, Manhart took matters into her own hands.

A cell phone camera captured part of the exchange, during which a protester says: “That’s not hers” in reference to the flag.

Manhart replies: "Actually it is, actually, it is. Anytime it's been torn or ripped, it needs to be properly disposed of, and we're going to take care of that. This belongs to, actually, the entire United States."

The protester responds: "No, not, it's not yours."

The flag was taken from Manhart and given back to the protesters, which caused a scuffle. Police spoke with Manhart’s daughter about why they arrested the woman.

Officer: "Because when we told her to release [the flag], she did not."

Daughter:
"So you arrested her because she wouldn't release the flag to the people who had it on the ground."

Officer: "No, to me."

Daughter:
"She wouldn't release it to you?"

Officer: "Exactly--to the officers who asked to return property that does not belong to her."

Manhart was released because the protesters and the officers declined to press charges for theft and resisting arrest. However, the university has issued a criminal trespass warning, which prohibits Manhart from stepping foot on campus.

Still, she said she'd do it again.

"When it comes to the flag, it's our iconic symbol,” Manhart said. “It stands for everything that we are. It stands for freedom to allow those individuals to do what they want, protest... so how are you even going to justify ruining or walking upon something that's giving you the right to do what you're doing?"

The university president released a statement, saying in part: “While I firmly disagree with the actions of the protesters, I understand their right to protest.”

The school is expecting veterans groups to protest on campus on Monday, and they said they will respect their right to do so.