People in Laguna Beach, California are complaining the American flag on its cop cars is 'very aggressive'

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A decision to affix an American flag graphic to the side of freshly painted Laguna Beach police cars is dividing residents who are alternately praising the image as patriotic or panning it as too aggressive.

After hearing criticism from residents at recent council meetings, and acknowledging that the image they approved for the cars didn't quite match the final results, officials agreed to reconsider their February decision to paint the Laguna Beach Police Department's fleet of 11 squad cars. The City Council will take the issue up again at its Tuesday meeting.


"People are screaming that the American flag on a police car is somehow or another ... hurting people's feelings who might be immigrants or visitors," said Councilman Peter Blake. "People are actually ridiculous enough to bring up comments about our cop cars having American flags on them."

Artist Carrie Woodburn went to the podium at the March 19 council meeting and said it was "shocking to see the boldness of the design" when the newly painted Ford Explorers rolled out.

"We have such an amazing community of artists here, and I thought the aesthetic didn't really represent our community," Woodburn said. "It feels very aggressive."

Attorney Jennifer Welsh Zeiter said at the last council meeting that she found the police cars "exceptional" and questioned the loyalty of anyone who objected to the American flag display.

"They are so filled with hatred toward this ... office of the president of the United States and the current occupant of that office, that they cannot see through their current biases to realize that a police vehicle with the American flag is the ultimate American expression," she said.

The council agreed in February to repaint its all-white squad cars in black and white with the image of Old Glory running through the word "police" on the doors.

But the graphic element of the paint job didn't scream Laguna Beach to everyone. Local designer Chris Prelitz was dining with his wife at the Montage when he spotted several parents and small children scattering.

"There was like a little panic going on, and I was like, 'What's happening?' " Prelitz said, spotting a cluster of police cars. "When one of them's there, it works. But all of a sudden, I saw, wow, when there are three, maybe four of them together, folks thought it was a SWAT team, federal agents. So it had a very striking, strong impact, so much so that I think there might be some unintended consequences."

LBPD Cpl. Ryan Hotchkiss, president of the Laguna Beach Police Employees Assn., said he had received only positive feedback.

"Every time I came to a stop sign, every time I came to a red light, somebody is telling me the car looks great," Hotchkiss said at the March meeting. "Every one of our members that drives the car loves it, and we look forward to keeping them the way they are."

On Tuesday the council will decide whether to continue with the logo or choose an alternative. The cars, however, will remain black and white, City Manager John Pietig said.

The proposed graphic that the council unanimously approved in February was a more muted version of the actual graphic that now appears on the cars, according to a city staff report. In February, Pietig called the proposed designs a "cloud-like look."

He said two weeks ago that the council would reconsider the logo "out of an abundance of caution to address questions that have been raised about the process."

Out of the Police Department's 11 vehicles, only four await the design update, police Sgt. Jim Cota said in a text message.

Police Chief Laura Farinella said at the Feb. 19 meeting that black and white is more visible and differentiates police squad cars from other security vehicles. The older, mostly white models the LBPD used were difficult to tell apart from beach patrol cars, Farinella said.

"This is about safety. I want anybody to see it, period," Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said at the February meeting.

The last time Laguna Beach's police cars featured black paint was in the 1970s, according to the department Twitter's page.

The issue returns to the council on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 505 Forest Ave.

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Laguna Beach Police Department
(Photo: CNN/screenshot)

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.

Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.

Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."

Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.

Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.

Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.

"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."

Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.

Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.

"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.

Photo: Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.

Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.

Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.

When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."

Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.

Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.

"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.

"Yes," Graffam said.

The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

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