Mark Bartlett, the white man who was seen on video menacing Black teens with a gun at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, all while yelling racial slurs, will now be facing hate crime charges.
According to CBS News, Bartlett, who originally faced a felony charge of carrying a concealed firearm, will now also face counts of aggravated assault with prejudice, improper exhibition of a firearm and carrying a concealed firearm. Hate crime enhancement on these charges could result in stiffer punishments if Bartlett is found guilty.
Back in January, video footage was released by Dream Defenders—a non-profit organization that has been at the forefront of demanding justice for victims of state and white supremacist violence, including Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis—showing Dana Scalione, Bartlett’s girlfriend, confronting the teens at the annual “Bikes Up, Guns Down” event. Scalione accused the teens of running over her foot with their bikes, although they denied it, and also called them “thugs.”
“You just touched me, you bunch of thugs,” Scalione could be heard yelling as she walked away from the group.
Around the same time, Bartlett, wearing a pink shirt rushed onto the scene with a gun at his side demanding, “Who did it?”
Bartlett menaced the teens with his guns and repeatedly called them the n-word.
“You fucking losers. You fucking stupid n–gers. You’re all fucking dumb-ass fucking n–gers,” he shouted, while still holding his firearm.
In another video, Bartlett, who had gotten into his car, could be heard yelling out of his window “N–gers suck!”
Bartlett and his attorneys did not appear in court for arraignment on Wednesday, but he has entered a not guilty plea in writing, according to the Miami Herald, claiming he was just trying to protect his girlfriend.
“Mark went to protect Dana and extract her from the mob surrounding and taunting her,” Bartlett’s attorney Jayne Weintraub said, according to the report. “It would not have mattered if these people were red, white or blue. This was not a hate crime.”
Other attorneys representing Bartlett slammed the decision as a “miscarriage of justice.”
“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,” the lawyers, Jayne Weintraub and Jonathan Etra, said in a statement. “….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.”
However, Lee Merrit, a civil rights attorney representing six of the teens involved in the incident praised prosecutors’ decision, having pushed for hate crime charges from the beginning.
“It means a lot to these families of the children who are victims of what we have always believed was a hate crime,” Merritt said, according to CBS. “We hope this leads to a vigorous prosecution that will lead to the appropriate sentencing.in the past few years and to deter them we have to use the laws that are on the books.”
If convicted with the hate crime enhancement, Bartlett can face anywhere from five to 55 years in prison, CBS notes.