Aurora Police ID Suspect in Immigrant Detention Facility Flag Burning Incident

Erin McCarley
The Aurora Police Department issued a summons to Michelle Mata, pictured above, for criminal tampering in relation to the July 12 protest.
Aurora police have identified a suspect allegedly involved in a flag burning incident outside the immigrant detention facility on July 12.

The Aurora Police Department issued a summons for criminal tampering "in relation to the GEO Flag" to Michelle Mata. Mata, 37, is due in Aurora Municipal Court on August 27. The department says it's still looking for other suspects on charges of reckless kindling of fire, injury to property and criminal tampering in relation to the removal and desecration of flags that were flying above the facility.

Removing the flags wasn't part of the original agenda of the demonstration outside the facility, which is run by GEO Group through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The protest was supposed to start as a march that eventually would combine with a vigil. But a handful of protesters broke off from the main crowd and ran over to the facility's entrance, which is located about a hundred yards from the street, and a smaller faction then removed the American, Colorado and GEO Group flags flying over the facility and replaced them with a Mexican flag and two anti-police flags. The Aurora Police Department says it decided not to intervene when the flags were being removed in order to "not escalate a situation to where our officers and innocent protesters could get hurt."

In the days following the protest, Republican politicians and conservative-leaning media outlets demanded that local Democratic politicians condemn the incident. Governor Jared Polis was one of the first to condemn the flag desecration, tweeting, "Of course I condemn the desecration of our flag, who wouldn’t? Now will you condemn the ongoing and even more serious offense to our flag and values of putting children in cages and tearing families apart?"

The controversy surrounding the protest has also led to infighting among some activists, with members of the more leftist groups, like the Boulder Democratic Socialists of America, arguing that the flag incident was an organic development in the protest and that an American flag being removed from the facility shouldn't be automatically criticized. "The impulse to defend the American flag being flown over a concentration camp is really alarming," a member of Boulder DSA told Westword for a previous article, requesting anonymity because of the police investigation.

The Aurora Police Department and the Denver Post got into a spat following the protest after the department published a photo from a Post photographer of one of the alleged flag burners on its Facebook page. After the Post sent a cease-and-desist letter, citing copyright violations, the Aurora Police Department removed the photo. Later, a right-wing social-media personality mislabeled the bandanna-clad man in the photo as political activist Ambrose Cruz, who, as it turns out, was in Montana with his kids during the protest.