Former Army soldier convicted of murder returns July 4 flag at Palm Bay leaders’ request

Joseph P. Mayo returned flag to Mayor Rob Medina Friday morning

PALM BAY, Fla. – A former U.S. Army soldier who was convicted of murder in the 2007 killings of unarmed Iraqi detainees has returned the ceremonial flag that Mayor Rob Medina gave him during a Fourth of July public event, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

Medina presented the folded flag to Joseph P. Mayo during the city’s annual Independence Day celebration at Eastern Florida State College’s Palm Bay campus.

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But Thursday night, the Palm Bay City Council voted 3-2 to adopt new criteria for its newly created flag program — and ask Mayo to return the flag.

Mayo returned the flag to City Hall on Friday morning, City Clerk Terese Jones said.

“You cannot be court-martialed and serve in Leavenworth and receive a dishonorable discharge and call yourself a veteran. You don’t meet the criteria, in my opinion,” Council Member Randy Foster said during Thursday’s meeting.

Foster, who introduced the list of criteria and moved to get the flag back, voted yes, as did Deputy Mayor Kenny Johnson and Councilman Donny Felix. Medina and Councilman Peter Filiberto voted no.

Foster initially asked City Manager Suzanne Sherman to ask Mayo to return the flag. However, Medina volunteered to contact Mayo instead, citing Mayo’s post-traumatic stress disorder.

Medina said he awarded the flag as a healing and restorative gesture. He said Mayo suffered from PTSD and sleep deprivation during his multiple combat deployments, and he earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

“It’s OK to attack me. But don’t attack this soldier. Don’t attack Joseph Mayo. He deserves more than that,” Medina said.

“This is on me. And if I did offend you, it was not my intention,” he told the audience.

A voicemail left at a phone number associated with Mayo was not returned.

In 2009, Mayo, an Army sergeant first class, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for murdering four Iraqi detainees in Baghdad. He had been convicted by a court martial of premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit premeditated murder, the BBC reported.

Mayo and two other officers, Master Sgt. John Hatley and Sgt. Michael Leahy, killed the blindfolded detainees, according to international news reports. Subsequent testimony showed they feared the prisoners would soon be released and attack their fellow troops.

“I thought it was in the best interests of my soldiers,” Mayo told the military court, the BBC reported.

Mayo is on parole after his early release from military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Palm Bay’s new flag program guidelines were approved on June 2 when the City Council authorized $2,000 to bestow American-made flags honoring first responders, military personnel, veterans, and those who have served and lived in the community.

Each council member can nominate up to three recipients per year. Flags are raised at City Hall and flown for one day or less. Afterward, flags are lowered, folded and presented to the recipient or family members with a certificate.

Thursday’s vote added new parameters to the program:

  • All nominees will be submitted for consideration via City Council vote.
  • First-responder nominees shall be in good standing with their employer, which shall be confirmed in writing by the agency head or designee.
  • Military personnel nominees shall be active duty and not under investigation or discipline under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which shall be confirmed in writing by the individual’s superior officer.
  • Veteran nominees shall be defined by U.S. Code as someone who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. A DD Form 214 shall be provided for proof of veteran status.

Medina introduced the flag program, and Foster said Thursday that it was a great idea. Medina is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who works as director of community and military relations for U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge. Messages seeking comment were left with Posey’s office.

Foster served as a U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force military police officer, and he is a retired veteran with the 175th Maryland Air National Guard.

A handful of veterans in Thursday’s crowd shared differing opinions on the flag controversy.

Palm Bay resident Butch Orend, a retired U.S Air Force master sergeant who served from 1968-91, told council members he saw action “from the jungles of Vietnam to the skies of Baghdad.” He served as an OV-10 Bronco aircraft mechanic and spotter near Pleiku during the Vietnam War, then served at a command post in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm.

“The first city flag, honor flag, whatever you want to call it, was presented to a convicted felon that spent time in Fort Leavenworth military prison. It was an insult to all present and former military members, living and dead,” Orend told council members.

“I think the mayor had a good heartfelt reason for doing it — but I think that this council needs to sanction him. I have nothing against you, mayor. You’re a decent man. But that was a bad choice,” he said.

Melbourne resident Scott Robinson supported Mayo from the public-comment podium Robinson said he served in battle in Iraq as Mayo’s platoon leader from 2004-05 near Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. Robinson said Mayo suffers from severe PTSD.

“Joe Mayo has really done a lot. He’s seen a lot of real combat. He’s been through a lot of crazy stuff,” Robinson said outside City Hall after the vote.

“One time, an (improvised explosive device) took off the whole front end of his truck. And he got that thing towed back, picked up a new truck, and went back out on his mission — still bleeding from his ears.”

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