A sheriff from upstate New York sheriff has received a warning from federal investigators over his flying a “Making America Great” flag during a Trump boat parade last summer, which they say violates the Hatch Act.
Oswego County Sheriff Don Hilton received the warning in a letter from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) after complaints that his office flew an American flag with Trump’s image super-imposed into it and the words “Making America Great” last August at the “Trump flotilla” on Oneida Lake.
Pictures published by local papers showed Hilton and several uniformed deputies aboard a Marine Patrol boat marked as a Sheriff’s office vehicle, flying the flag in question.
The OSC enforces the Hatch Act, which Hilton and his deputies violated because he engages in “duties in connection with federally funded programs.”
Under the Hatch Act, employees such as Hilton are prohibited from “using their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election” and are banned from sing official agency resources to engage in political activity.
A high ranking official in the OSC’s Hatch Act Unit explained Hilton’s violation in the letter:
“Because you used an official agency resource to promote a presidential candidate, thus giving the impression that the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office endorsed that candidate, OSC determined that you violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition against using your official authority to affect an election.”
The letter continued:
“Please be advised that if you engage in any future prohibited political activity while employed in a Hatch Act-covered position, OSC would consider such activity to be a willful and knowing violation of the law that could result in disciplinary action.”
Oswego County Legislature Chairman Jim Weatherup made a statement on Thursday of last week, announcing that the OSC was closing the case without disciplinary action:
“We received a letter today in response to a complaint regarding county Sheriff Hilton’s participation in a Trump flotilla campaign rally,” Weatherup, a Republican, wrote. “The Office of Special Counsel has issued a warning letter to the sheriff and decided to close the matter without further action.”
Hilton said in his own statement also released on Thursday that he “reassured the chairman and other members of the Legislature that it will not occur again.”
Last August, Hilton explained himself after initial complaints:
“I did this to show support for the event participants and for our president, who has supported law enforcement at a time when many groups are unjustly vilifying our profession. To do so was my decision only, not my deputies’, and I take full and sole responsibility for it.”