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Monday
Oct102011

Citizen Superhero 'Phoenix Jones' Arrested in Seattle

ABC News(SEATTLE) -- Seattle's masked superhero crime fighter dubbed "Phoenix Jones" is now fighting an assault charge for allegedly spraying pepper spray on people who he claims were fighting. Seattle police claim the people were dancing.

Phoenix Jones, who has been unmasked by police as Benjamin Francis, was arrested about 2:30 a.m. Sunday while still wearing his black and gold superhero costume, a bullet-proof vest and carrying two cans of pepper spray. Jones is a member of the "Rain City Superhero Movement," a group of self-proclaimed superheroes who say they patrol the streets to fight crime.

He was charged with assaulting two people who police said were "dancing and having a good time" as they walked to their car.

"In this particular case, he perceived that this group was fighting and when we contacted them, they said they weren't fighting," said Det. Mark Jamieson, a Seattle Police Department public information officer. "Unfortunately, he used force. He committed a crime, an assault against these individuals. That's against the law."

The police report quoted a woman who was sprayed, saying the four victims "began dancing and frolicking with each other. Suddenly she observed a person running full sprint towards her group."

The person sprayed all four victims with pepper spray, the report stated.

Francis, who was being filmed by a journalist at the time, told police he "ran into the crowd to break up the fight."

"He saw two white males fighting, but could not explain why four people, including women, had been sprayed," the police report said.

In a video taken by a journalist who was with Jones when he was arrested and posted on Jones' Facebook page shows Jones rushing towards commotion and a crowd in a road beneath an underpass in downtown Seattle. It is unclear from the video whether the group is fighting or just messing around, as police said.

The police report said that Francis "has had a history of injecting himself in these incidents. Recently there has (sic) been increased reports of citizens being pepper sprayed by [Francis] and his group."

Earlier that night several other nightclub patrons told police they had also been pepper sprayed by Phoenix Jones, but left the area before police arrived.

Peter Tangen, a photographer and spokesman for Phoenix Jones, questioned how police can say the group was dancing and joking around when Jones was on-scene as an eyewitness and police were not when the situation occurred.

"The first thing Phoenix did was to scream out to call 911," Tangen said. "He's been doing this four or five nights a week this entire year and he has never been charged with a crime. To assert that he ran into a bunch of people dancing and pepper sprayed them is entirely inconsistent with what he has done consistently this entire year."

Jones, the husband and father of two, told Good Morning America in January, "I'm definitely not going to let my fellow citizens be assaulted and not do anything." He continued, "It's a pretty simple message. Citizens need to be more accountable. Calling 911 is a great start, but it's not the end all to end all," Jones said. "Criminals feel free to just run wild in my city, and I'm not going to stand for it."

Jones isn't the only one who feels this way. He is just one of many citizen superheroes around the country with similar groups in Orlando, New York, and Salt Lake City, among other places.

Over the years, the citizen superheroes have grown more organized, with websites popping up to help them organize themselves such as Superheroes Anonymous and Real Life Superheroes. On these websites, participants can do everything from share their crime-fighting stories to learn about patenting their looks and names.

The Salt Lake City group, called the Black Monday Society, is made up of nine members that go out to patrol downtown Salt Lake City a few times a month. They meet up at the Salt Lake City Library and fan out from there, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

While the group does break up fights, they also deliver meals to the homeless and balance their superhero lives with families and day jobs.

A spokesman for the Salt Lake City Police Department said that they have chosen not to comment on the citizen vigilantes, but other police departments, like the Seattle Police Department, are more vocal about their concerns with the groups.

"We applaud their civic-mindedness and that they want to be involved. That's all great. The problem and the concern that we have is that somebody is going to get hurt," Jamieson said. "They don't have the training. They don't have the authority."

Jamieson hopes the incident will be a "wake-up call" for Phoenix Jones and other like him that there is a line between being a helpful citizen and risking further harm. He concedes that Jones' crime fighting efforts are not illegal and he has the right to do so, but hopes they will refrain from inserting themselves unnecessarily into volatile situation.

"At the end of the day, so you break up a fight, then what are you going to do?" Jamieson said. "You still have to call the police if you want somebody arrested."

Jones is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday and has a team of attorneys representing him, according to Tangen, who was vague about Jones' future as a superhero.

"He is a man who cares deeply about others, wearing a costume expressly to get out a consistent message: Call 911. Look out for your fellow man. Don't let injustice walk away and don't let people be victimized," Tangen said. "Whatever his future is, it will absolutely contain his way of trying to make the world a better place."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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