SEATTLE (Reuters) - Self-proclaimed Seattle superhero Phoenix Jones, a vigilante crime-fighter accused of assault, made his first court appearance on Thursday, but prosecutors have so far declined to charge him.
The onetime mixed-martial-arts competitor whose real name is Benjamin Fodor was arrested on Sunday after police said he pepper-sprayed a group of innocent nightclub patrons he believed were involved in a street brawl downtown.
He was jailed briefly on suspicion of four misdemeanor counts of assault and released on $3,800 bail.
He showed up for a brief hearing on Thursday in Seattle Municipal Court wearing a pinstriped shirt and his black-and-yellow mask, which he removed at the request of a court officer. He donned it again as he left the courtroom.
Fodor, with his hooded mask and a molded black-and-yellow suit of body armor, has become something of a local celebrity since he began patrolling downtown Seattle streets about a year ago to break up fights and alert police to other petty crimes.
In addition to pepper spray, he is known to carry a stun gun and a cell phone on his late-night rounds. He also attends charity events on request.
Prosecutors said they have not filed charges against Fodor but that he remains under investigation, and a case could be brought against him at a later time.
Fodor said he felt confident that a 13-minute video of Sunday’s altercation, taken by a member of his entourage, proved him innocent of wrongdoing.
Police said Fodor assaulted a group of men and women as they were leaving a nightclub early on Sunday morning “dancing and having a good time” in the street.
The video, which was posted on the Internet, showed Fodor being alerted to what he believed to be a “huge fight,” then rushing on foot toward a crowd yelling “call 911” and wading into the group with a can of pepper spray.
Some in the crowd angrily fought back, with one woman screaming and beating Fodor with her shoes before police finally arrived on the scene.
Fodor and his supporters were initially angry that his real identity was exposed by media reports after his arrest.
But flanked by his attorneys and speaking with reporters outside the King County Jail on Thursday, he dramatically removed the mask and confirmed his real identity.
“I’m Phoenix Jones. I’m also Ben Fodor. I also protect the city, I also am a father, I also am a brother. I’m just like everyone else,” he said. “The only difference is that I decided to make a difference and stop crime in my neighborhood and my area. I intend to keep making that difference. The charges were false.”
He left his pinstriped shirt behind on a sidewalk, striding off in his mask and a faded black rubber shirt he uses as a back-up costume, saying police still have his main costume.
Fodor said he planned to resume his vigilante work immediately, and called on Seattle citizens to join him downtown on Saturday night.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston