AURORA | Aurora police are searching for a group of people suspected of removing and vandalizing a trio of flags displayed in front of a local immigration processing center during a protest on July 12.
Investigators have focused on more than a half-dozen “persons of interest” who are suspected of removing a U.S. flag, a Colorado state flag, and a banner bearing the logo of GEO Group Inc. during a protest at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility —operated by the GEO Group — last Friday.
Officials believe the wanted people attempted to burn the flags after stripping them from flagpoles in front of the facility on Oakland Street.
The suspects later raised a Mexican flag, a desecrated “thin blue line” flag, and a banner that read “f**k the cops,” according to police.
In photos released by police, one of the suspects can be seen holding an American flag and wearing sunglasses with a white bandana over his face. Another suspect can be seen wearing a black bandana around her neck and a black t-shirt that reads “f**k ICE” in Spanish. A third man can be seen wearing sunglasses and waving a flag with the words “f**k cops” over an image of a turtle.
Additional suspects can be seen wearing jeans, hooded sweatshirts and sneakers.
In a statement released over the weekend, Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz denounced the actions of the suspected vandals, but he commended police for not intervening and escalating the situation.
“There are those who believe that once the flags were removed and burned we should have moved in on the massive crowd,” Metz said in a statement. “I completely share those sentiments, but it’s also important that we are strategic in doing what we can to not escalate a situation to where our officers and innocent protestors could get hurt.”
Police estimated some 2,000 people attended the protest last Friday night.
Part of a national movement known as “Lights For Liberty,” the protest at the GEO facility in north Aurora has garnered national scorn from officials of all political stripes in recent days.
The action at the GEO Group center has been widely condemned by many immigration rights activists as well as lawmakers but defended by at least some demonstration participants.
The vigil portion of the event was one many held around the world by Lights for Liberty, which denounced the flag removal along with the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. A march to the vigil was organized by the Coalition to Close Concentration Camps.
The Colorado Immigration Rights Coalition, which is comprised of over 90 organizations around the state, said the action by what it called “rogue protesters” put undocumented families attending the vigil at risk and caused harm to the immigration rights movement.
“As a result, the attention has shifted away from how for-profit corporations make billions in profit from the increased criminalization of our communities and militarization of our borders,” the coalition said in a statement over the weekend.
However, Frankie Donez, a University of Colorado student and a member of Contra ICE who helped organize the coalition’s march, said he supports those who removed the flag. He said he understands the outrage that prompted the removal of the flag, which he said is an oppressive symbol for some of the people who are most directly impacted by immigration policies.
“For people who have experienced ICE and border issues, migration issues their whole life, they get angry, they can get sad and those are emotions they can express,” he said.
Donez, who said he was speaking for himself and not Contra ICE, said he thought flag protest would encourage other people to become involved in fighting to close detention centers because of all the attention it has received.
People with potential information regarding any of the “persons of interest” are encouraged to email [email protected] Aurora police are offering a reward of up to $2,000 for legitimate information.
Informants wishing to remain anonymous can call the Metro Denver Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867. The Metro Denver Crime Stoppers are also offering a reward of up to $2,000 for legitimate information.
The two rewards can be combined for a total reward of up to $4,000, according to Aurora police.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.