PATASKALA, Ohio (WCMH) — Just over five years ago, a gunman killed three people at a Licking County, Ohio, nursing home. The father of one of those victims—who was the newly appointed police chief in Kirkersville at the time—has flown a Thin Blue Line flag at his Etna home off and on since then.

But during National Police Week, that father got a letter from his homeowners’ association telling him to take the flag down. He had to call the county sheriff when a man who had no affiliation with the homeowners’ group walked onto his property and tried to remove it.

“It’s been flying since the 12th of May 2017,” said Thomas DiSario, giving the date his son died. “The only time it comes down [is] if it’s worn out and I buy a new one and put it back up.”

Gift from law enforcement

The flag did come down over the winter. DiSario said the flagpole on the property was bent and wasn’t replaced until earlier this month. The original flag was a gift from law enforcement colleagues of Steven Eric DiSario, the first to respond to a call at the Pine Kirk Care Center. Sheriff deputies who responded afterward found DiSario’s body on the street outside and two employees and the gunman dead inside.

“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,” Thomas DiSario said.

From the archives: Coverage of Kirkersville tragedy

Every year, National Police Week honors those like Steven Eric DiSario who lost their lives while serving the public and protecting others. He was 38-years-old and a father of six, with a seventh on the way.

Man in his yard

“I had a gentleman come in my yard, lower the flags, and [he] wiped his face on them,” said Thomas DiSario, a disabled veteran who needs oxygen after being exposed to sarin gas during Operation Desert Storm. “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.”

On Saturday, DiSario eventually called the Licking County Sheriff’s Office over the person trying to take down both the Thin Blue Line flag and the American flag that flies above it. Although neighbors witnessed the man and helped to describe him, the responding deputy couldn’t find him.

Community association letter

Then on Monday, DiSario received a letter from the Omni Community Association Managers that said the Thin Blue Line flag was a political sign and had to be removed under association rules. “The political sign in the form of a flag must be removed from your property,” the letter, dated Friday, read in part. “The flag on your pole is not a United States Flag. It is a political statement. Please remove the flag from your property.”

DiSario said he is being harassed for flying a flag that’s a memorial to his fallen son. “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.”

A community with rules

David Dye, president of the Omni Community Association Managers, said the man who showed up to remove the flags was not affiliated with them. He also asserted that the community where DiSario bought his home, Cumberland Crossing, had deed restrictions put in place when it was developed, and that he has to follow those rules.

“They bought into the community with rules,” Dye said. “He agreed by buying in this community that he can’t display what he wants to display.” Those restrictions were included in filings with the county recorder, he said.

Dye also explained how a flag can count as a sign. “Sometimes signs masquerade as flags or as light displays, as examples,” he 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. It doesn’t matter whether we agree. If it’s a sign, you are not allowed to post it, according to the deed restrictions.”

The HOA tells WCMH they received a complaint about the flag, which prompted the notice sent to DiSario. So far, DiSario’s flag continues to fly outside his home.