Man arrested for burning flags in Ottawa County

(UPDATED: Wednesday, 6:09 p.m.) A Grand Rapids-area man was arrested Tuesday for allegedly burning American flags in Ottawa County.
Becky Vargo
Jul 12, 2012


William Howerton, 57, of Wyoming told the judge when he was arraigned Wednesday that he "did bad things for what I thought was a good reason," and that he was "angry and full of rage" when he burned the flags at the Veterans Memorial at Hudsonville City Hall and the Ottawa County Road Commission building Tuesday night.

Howerton was charged with two counts of arson of property that didn't belong to him. He pleaded guilty in Ottawa County District Court on Wednesday, and now faces up to 93 days in jail on each count. A pre-sentencing evaluation is scheduled for later this month.

Howerton apologized in court, saying that he should have found "other ways to protest." It isn't clear exactly what he was protesting, WZZM-TV reported.

Deputies were sent to the Hudsonville City Hall at 9:20 p.m. Tuesday on a complaint of flag burning, said Lt. Mark Bennett of the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department. A witness saw a white man flee the scene prior to police arriving, Bennett said.

During the investigation, at least two more calls were received on flag burnings. Deputies responded to a call of a suspicious man in the area of 40th Avenue and Chicago Drive. Howerton was interviewed there and then arrested, Bennett said.

Several United States flags were burned throughout the evening in the area of 40th Avenue and Chicago Drive, police said. Bennett said police are also checking the possibility that the man they arrested was involved in similar incidents in the past year.

Hudsonville City Manager Patrick Waterman said he did not know why the man burned the flags.

"I was very surprised and personally disturbed that this happened in our
Veterans Park," Waterman said Wednesday. "We had held a City Commission last night, and this must have occurred right after it was over and everyone had gone home."

Waterman said two flags were destroyed — an American flag and a POW flag. He said the flags would not be immediately replaced because damage occurred to the flagpole that will first need to be repaired.

"There were no salvageable remains of the flags that were burned," Waterman said. "To replace the American flag that was destroyed will cost approximately $50. The POW flags are between $20 and $30 each. However, the necessary repairs to the flag pole will be quite a bit more."

WZZM-TV contributed to this report.



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