As a peaceful protest in Santa Maria on Sunday devolved into pandemonium, Joseph Gore was watching across the street from City Hall when he saw a group of 30 people remove the American flag from its pole.
Gore, 26, of Santa Maria and three others watched in dismay, then rushed across the street in an attempt to stop the group. Old Glory was ultimately reclaimed hours later in a literal game of capture the flag.
The incident followed Sunday's protest against the death of George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a video-recorded altercation that showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on Floyd's neck for eight minutes while he remained handcuffed.
Hundreds of protesters, mostly young people, marched peacefully to South Broadway and Cook Street and gathered there for several hours before they were replaced by a rebellious crowd sometime after 6 p.m., according to Gore, who added Santa Maria Police brought the situation under control shortly after midnight.
Demonstrators protesting police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's death Sunday in Santa Maria turned unruly Sunday night, with some pull…
"The moment we stepped across the street, we knew we were all getting into something but weren't going to let them destroy the flag," Gore said.
The four men — Gore, Jonathan Carroll, Brandon Reis and Michael Chavez — were attacked by the mob, according to Gore, who said each man defended himself against multiple demonstrators.
Carroll, 33, of Santa Maria was blindsided by a punch to the side of the head and sustained a broken finger in the skirmish. Carroll said he tried to reason with the group before someone swung at him.
"We all got hit pretty good," Carroll said. "It's not a big deal. I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
Larry Hislop, who observed the situation live on Facebook, called his friend Malcolm Astudillo, 19, a U.S. Air Force airman first class stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, who rushed to Santa Maria from Arroyo Grande.
Both men arrived sometime around 10 p.m. and found a chaotic scene with cars doing burnouts around a fire in the intersection of Broadway and Cook Street. Someone threw a firecracker, which exploded against Astudillo's leg, leaving a welt.
After asking around, Astudillo saw a young man with the flag draped across his back and politely asked him to return it.
"I told him that I was in the service and he hands the flag over," Astudillo said, adding he still has the flag and plans to return it to the city.
Jaime Flores, a local insurance agency owner, watched a video of the men getting attacked and received a message from Steve Baird with the Echo Group/Band of Brothers a short time later. Flores, Baird, Justin Trammell and Eric Wilson arrived on scene and went into flag protection mode.
Baird rounded up a ladder and used it to climb onto the roof of City Hall to gain access to the bell tower. The original mission was to hoist the flag atop a location where everyone could see it, he said, adding that he had brought several flags with him to the scene.
The men hoisted another flag up the pole, but realized it was too small. After getting permission from police, they replaced it with a larger flag. While Baird chose not to be involved with the protest, he said he took issue when someone messed with the American flag.
"Those four who originally got the flag, that's so damned honorable," Baird said. "That's American as f**k."
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