Marion, OH – A high school senior trying to take special pictures honoring his fallen-officer father was harassed by an administrator for not getting permission to pose at a public memorial.
It’s tradition for the residents of Marion to capture landmark moments in their lives with a picture taken on the front steps of U.S. President Warren G. Harding’s memorial in his hometown.
“I know the community often uses the steps of the memorial for family photos, engagement photos, prom and homecoming pictures. If you grew up in Marion you probably had your pictures in front of that memorial,” Landon Winfield’s mother, Sara Marie, posted on her Facebook page.
But when her son Landon tried to take his senior pictures at Harding’s tomb on Sunday with some members of law enforcement who wanted to honor his father, there were problems.
In the end, the pictures were taken, but the mood was spoiled, according to an angry Facebook post written by his mother.
She pointed out that his father, the late Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandy Lyn Winfield, had been murdered in the line of duty while serving the community when his son Landon was only three years old.
Deputy Winfield was responding to a call for a disabled vehicle when he was shot and left for dead in his overturned police vehicle on Oct. 14, 2004, according to the Marion Star.
The senior photos taken with his father’s uniform hat and flag, and taken on the steps of the Harding Memorial, were significant to Landon because it was the closest he could get to his father, whom he does not remember, his mother wrote.
In her Facebook post, Deputy Winfield’s widow Sara Marie, detailed exactly what happened on Oct. 7 when she and Landon met up with law enforcement officers from multiple departments for the photo shoot.
“Tonight as we gathered for these photos there were many hugs exchanged and I may have seen a tear in the eyes of a few big tough men as Landon proudly stood next to the police horses from Delaware County and Columbus PD with his dads deputy hat hanging on the folded flag that was presented to me at his funeral. I was filled with pride at the fine young man I had raised and the support the officers from Marion still give to him,” she wrote.
“As we begin to line everyone up a local pastor happened to see us and asked to pray for us. It was a touching moment,” Sara Marie continued. “Then a man approached and asked who was in charge.”
She said their photographer dealt with the man, and ended up on the phone with the site manager for the Harding House and the Harding Memorial, Sherry Hall.
Hall told the photographer they needed permission to take pictures at the public memorial.
The photographer explained the circumstances and was granted permission to continue, but then Hall showed up at the memorial and rudely demanded to know who had organized the photo shoot, Landon’s mother said.
“I spoke up and said I had organized my sons senior pictures with his dads law enforcement family. She said well in the future you need permission to be here. I apologized and told her I was unaware of that and she looked around with disgust and said well these officers know that already they have been told,” Deputy Winfield’s widow posted.
Then she learned that harassing police officers at the memorial was Hall’s usual routine.
“I was very appalled to learn this isn’t the first time they have had issues with Ms. Hall,” Sara Marie wrote. “Apparently when the K-9 unit proudly took photos with cruisers and the K9’s in front of the memorial they were chastised by Ms. Hall.”
She expressed her displeasure about the way her community’s police officers were treated at the Harding Memorial that is actually featured on their police department’s patch.
The widow said Deputy Winfield took a photo in that exact spot with his father and brother, who were also local law enforcement officers, before he died.
“I am curious if every wedding party and kid attending home coming calls for permission to get a photo taken there,” the angry mother wondered in her post. “Maybe Ms. Hall needs to make a nice plaque with her phone number out front so everyone can obey her authority and ask permission to use a space meant to be shared within this community.”
The Harding House and Harding Memorial are administered by the Ohio History Connection, and locally managed by Marion Technical College, according to a Facebook post by the college on Tuesday.
The post acknowledged that some visitors had had a “less than satisfactory experience” visiting the memorial.
“For this, MTC wishes to express our sincerest apologies to the affected parties. We are actively working with the Ohio Historical Connection so that we understand their policies to ensure that they are not only clear, but also made available to the public via their website. As the Harding Memorial is a public space, all visitors are welcomed and encouraged to take photographs at the site,” the post read.
The college’s president, Dr. Ryan McCall, contacted the Winfield family on Monday to personally apologize for what happened.
“He also apologized to the sheriffs office and police department,” Sara Marie wrote. “I have confidence this issue will be handled so it doesn’t happen in the future and appreciate his quick action and apology to my family.”
The Ohio History Connection's public relations manager, Emmy Beach, told Blue Lives Matter in an email that they apologized for making Deputy Winfield's family and friends "feel unwelcome in a cherished public place."
Beach said "this situation helped us recognize that we can do a better job of communicating how we work with the community to coordinate gatherings at the Memorial."
"We are using this experience to improve our communication and procedures at this and at our other historic sites so that this doesn’t happen in the future," Beach told Blue Lives Matter.
Sherry Hall did not return calls from Blue Lives Matter seeking comment on the incident.