Prosecutors have filed hate crime charges against an armed white man who confronted a group of black teenagers in Brickell during a housing inequality protest on Martin Luther King Day.
Additional charges have been filed against 51-year-old Mark Bartlett in the Jan. 21 incident on Brickell Avenue, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced Tuesday.
Bartlett now faces three counts of aggravated assault with prejudice, enhanced to a second-degree penalty; one count of improper exhibition of a firearm, enhanced to a third-degree felony; and one count of carrying a concealed firearm, a third-degree felony.
"We are disappointed the State Attorney has succumbed to the political pressure rather than obeying the tenets of the law. Clearly this mob of people who were commandeering traffic, and taunting passengers, while wearing masks and gloves, were not peacefully protesting – they were not peacefully doing anything. They were committing multiple crimes for which the State Attorney is not holding them accountable," Bartlett's attorneys said in a statement Tuesday. "The State Attorney has compounded the City of Miami’s negligence by failing to investigate the situation thoroughly, and interview independent witnesses, (which we brought to her) so that she could make a decision based on the law; not politics. It's a shame the State Attorney’s platform for lawfulness has now turned into one of endorsing lawlessness. This charging decision is a disgraceful miscarriage of justice, and we intend to remedy it – by vindicating our clients in a court of law; not in the court of public opinion."
The group riding bicycles was blocking traffic to draw attention to their potential loss of affordable housing due to redevelopment in the impoverished Liberty City neighborhood when the encounter happened between Bartlett and his girlfriend.
Cellphone videos show Bartlett walking up to the group with a handgun at his side and yelling racial slurs, although he never pointed the weapon at anyone, according to an arrest report. Bartlett had been initially charged only with illegally carrying a concealed weapon.
The protest was timed on the King holiday not only to link it to the slain civil rights leader but also to take advantage of media attention to Miami's annual "Wheels Up, Guns Down" event, said the attorneys for the teens. This involves mostly African-American young men on dirt motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles riding at high speed in and out of traffic, popping wheelies and riding while standing on the seats.
Police have tried repeatedly to discourage the riders, citing the danger they pose to themselves and others, and every year dozens of people are arrested and many vehicles seized. The bicyclists involved in the confrontation were not directly affiliated with it, although they called their protest "Bikes Up, Guns Down."
Members of the organization were pleased with the state attorney's decision but also believe Bartlett should be put on house arrest.
"I would feel more safer walking around and riding my bike if he was on house arrest," Jamel Anderson said. "Right now since he's not on house arrest, I don't wanna be riding my bike now."
On the cellphone videos, a woman identified as Bartlett's girlfriend, Dana Scalione, is shown arguing with the teenage cyclists about blocking the street in the upscale Brickell neighborhood and complaining she had to pick up children. At one point, she calls them "thugs" after claiming one of them on a bike rode over her foot.
Then Bartlett enters the picture with his handgun at his side, calling the group "losers" and using harsh racial epithets. Police were called and Bartlett was arrested, asking officers "why am I being arrested when those kids are free to ride around? I did pull out my gun. But I never pointed it at them," according to an arrest report.
Scalione has since been fired from her job at a local real estate company.
Another attorney for the teenagers, Marwan Porter, said a civil lawsuit will also be filed against the couple.