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Long Beach man files $25M suit against city over political flag

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A Long Beach Republican and ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump Thursday filed a $25 million lawsuit against the city, claiming his rights were violated in March when he was issued a $40 summons for flying flags from his home and car supporting Trump and cursing at Democrat Joe Biden.

Michael Wasserman said in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that his rights were violated March 16 when Long Beach police officers, including Police Commissioner Ron Walsh, asked him to remove the flags because they violated a city code against displaying flags on public property.  

Wasserman said in the papers that he has flown flags from his home and his SUV, and that he believes the code supports his right to fly the flags. 

In papers, he said, "On or about 2017 until present day, Plaintiff [Wasserman] erects flags that express his support of Donald Trump, flags that express his dissatisfaction of the current President of the United States of America, the American Flag, among others, outside his home on East Broadway in the City."

Nowhere in the court papers does Wasserman say that among the flags he flew was one containing an obscene comment — "F_ _ k Biden."

On March 21, Wasserman said in court papers that he flew a "Trump for 2024 America First Flag" from his car outside his home. He said a Long Beach police officer arrived at his home. 

Wasserman said he would remove the flag until he could obtain a legal opinion as to its legality. But, he said, the officer, whom he identified as Brian Vias, issued him a summons. Wasserman claimed in the papers that Vias told him he "had  no choice" but to issue the summons, indicating that the order "came from his superiors." Vias could not be reached for comment.

The city on Thursday said that it has not been served with papers and could not comment. 

Wasserman's attorney, Victor Feraru, said he believes his client has the right to fly the flags, and that city codes protect him.

Feraru said Wasserman is protected by a section of the city code that states flags cannot be flown on public property "exempting "[t]he flags, emblems or insignia of any nation, governmental subdivisions,  religious or fraternal organization or corporation."

The suit names Walsh, City Manager Donna Gayden, Vias and two other officers at the scene March 21.

The matter has generated considerable controversy in Long Beach. The city on March 21 posted a notice that it was aware of the controversy and was trying to resolve it. 

"While it is unfortunate that the person flying these flags has chosen to display a flag that utilizes profane language, the use of this language is considered constitutionally protected, especially when it is utilized as part of a political statement," the city's statement said.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 1971 ruling, reversed the conviction of a man who had worn a jacket with the slogan "F_ _ k the Draft" in a Los Angeles courthouse. The case put the phrase "one man's vulgarity is another's lyric" into the American cultural lexicon.

Wasserman said in his filing that he knows his “conservative viewpoints cause ire among those who disagree" with his politics. 

He said in the papers that "groups of people" yell expletives at him and raise their middle fingers at him. He said another person spat at him and others threw coins at his car while he was driving.