LAWRENCE — An American flag in front of the post office on Common Street was lowered to the ground and set on fire by a North Andover man early yesterday morning, police said.
Police arrested Nathaniel Aznoian, 27, of 168 Osgood St., on charges of malicious destruction of property over $250, trespassing after notice, disorderly conduct and arson of personal property, according to a police report.
At approximately 2:25 a.m., Patrolman Carl Farrington noticed Aznoian alone in front of the post office with "sparking light behind him by only a foot," Farrington wrote in his report.
As Farrington approached him, he noticed that an approximately 3-inch area of the American flag was burning.
"Look someone lit the flag on fire," Aznoian told officers as he quickly walked away from the burning flag, placing a cigarette in his mouth. No one else was in view of the flag pole, according to Farrington's report.
"The American flag appeared to be nylon and was burning in a sparking way and then dripping quickly to the ground," Farrington wrote. "I called for the Fire Department."
Aznoian could not explain how the American flag was lit and could not explain why he was there, according to the report.
"He stated that he would never light an American flag on fire, his family members are firefighters," Farrington wrote. "The flag had two small round burn holes, which appeared to be consistent with a cigarette burn."
The rope on the flag pole was untied and the flag was left hanging a few feet from the ground, according to the report. Police contracted postal inspectors who said they will review the police report for possible federal charges, the report said.
The damaged flag was flying in front of the post office yesterday afternoon. A postal worker, who wished not to be identified, said the flag was raised again despite its condition because they didn't have another one. A new one will likely be up by tomorrow, the worker said.
The city's Veterans Agent Francisco Urena, a former Marine and Purple Heart recipient who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said he was "extremely disappointed that someone would stoop so low." He called the act "deviant" and said it doesn't reflect the rest of the city.
"He should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for damage to federal property and for such disrespect to the country," Urena said yesterday. "It is a symbol that stands for freedom and liberty and so many men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice protecting those rights we all share."
• • •
Follow Jonathan Phelps on Twitter under the screen name JPhelps_ET. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.