The families of four black teens subjected to racial slurs and vulgarity over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday in Miami have filed a civil lawsuit against the white couple who targeted them, claiming the couple’s actions constitute a hate crime, the Miami Herald reports.
Racist Rant, Concealed Weapon On Miami Bridge
In addition to the hate crime allegations, the nine-page lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court accuses Dana Scalione and Mark Bartlett of intentionally inflicting emotional distress on the teens. The lawsuit also presses a charge of battery against Bartlett, who brandished a concealed weapon in the incident, which was caught on camera by an activist.
Mark Bartlett was arrested by police after the incident, which took place on January 21, 2019. He was initially charged with carrying a concealed firearm without a permit after he pointed his weapon at three black youths who had gathered on a Miami bridge as part of an annual “Bikes Up, Guns Down” event. The young demonstrators were riding their bikes and obstructing traffic to protest the loss of affordable housing in their Liberty City neighborhood.
Viral Incident Leads To Hate Crime Lawsuit
Videos of the incident went viral after being posted on Twitter by a local grassroots group, Dream Defenders. In one of the clips, Dana Scalione can be heard accusing one of the young boys of rolling over her foot with his bike. She shoves the teen, then commands them to move, saying she has children to pick up from school. “Don’t you touch me, you bunch of thugs,” she shouts, then stomps back to her car, at which point Bartlett races toward the group of boys holding his pistol. “Get out of here you piece of s—,” he shouts. “Get the f–k outta here…f–king stupid n—s! F—king dumb a– n—s.”
In their new lawsuit, the teens and their guardians say Bartlett’s racist rant and use of a concealed weapon made the teens feel that “violence was imminent.” The lawsuit has been filed by civil rights attorney Lee Merritt on behalf of six plaintiffs. Merritt is joined in his pursuit of justice by attorney Marwan Porter. “Scalione engaged in an onslaught of physical and verbal assaults […] including insults and racial slurs,” the lawsuit reads, adding that Bartlett “angrily approached the teenagers while wielding a firearm.”
Criminal Charges Increased By Florida Hate Crime Law
Meanwhile, Mark Bartlett is now facing a host of new criminal charges under a hate crime law passed by Florida lawmakers. The law allows Florida prosecutors to enhance criminal charges when a criminal offense is exacerbated by the expression of racial animus.
In addition to a felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon, Bartlett now faces three counts of aggravated assault with prejudice, all second-degree felonies, and a single count of improperly exhibiting a firearm, which is a third-degree felony. Without Florida’s hate crime law, Bartlett would likely have been charged with a misdemeanor charge for carrying a concealed weapon and a third-degree felony for the aggravated assault charge.
Bartlett Pleads Not Guilty To Hate Crime Charges
Despite apologizing for his language, Bartlett has consistently maintained his innocence, saying he was “legally defending a loved one,” Dana Scalione, who he claims was being attacked by the four youths. On Wednesday, February 20, 2019, Bartlett pleaded not guilty, though neither he nor his attorneys appeared in a Miami-Dade Circuit courtroom packed with vocal supporters of the alleged victims, according to the Miami Herald.
Instead, Circuit Judge Alberto Milian accepted a written plea of not guilty to the felony charges. Milian ordered Bartlett and his lawyers to appear in court next Tuesday. Prosecutors have sought to increase the amount of bond Bartlett is made to post to remain out of jail as he awaits trial. Jayne Weintraub, one of Bartlett’s defense attorneys, says prosecutors in the case have bowed to “political pressure,” reiterating the argument that Bartlett was rushing in to protect his girlfriend.
“Mark went to protect Dana and extract her from the mob surrounding and taunting her,” Weintraub said. “It would not have mattered if these people were red, white or blue. This was not a hate crime.”