MIAMI – Several young protesters who were confronted on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day by a couple who was upset about them blocking the street have filed a lawsuit against them, seeking damages for the protesters' "pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress."
A representative for the protesters said their ages range from 11 to over 18. Three out of the five plaintiffs listed in the lawsuit are minors.
Cellphone video of the Jan. 15 incident shows a woman, identified as Dana Scalione, yelling at a group of young protesters who were blocking her car from passing the Brickell Avenue Bridge as they were protesting the redevelopment of the Liberty Square public housing complex.
The video shows Scalione yelling that one of the teens ran over her foot with his bike, and a screaming match ensues.
The lawsuit claims Scalione also assaulted at least one protester by shoving his bike and that she confronted the group with "erratic behavior."
"Don't touch me, you bunch of thugs," the woman tells the teens as she walks away from them, the video shows.
The teens then shout obscenities at her.
"Given that Scalione was an adult woman exhibiting such erratic behavior, (the) plaintiffs had a well-founded fear that violence was imminent," the lawsuit stated.
The cellphone video shows Scalione's boyfriend, Mark Bartlett, 51, approaching the protesters moments after the incident with Scalione while holding a gun in his hand. He begins yelling obscenities and racial slurs at the teens, telling them to leave.
"F---ing stupid n-----s," Bartlett can be heard saying in the video.
Bartlett was arrested shortly after the incident on a felony charge of carrying a concealed firearm.
Police said Bartlett didn't have a concealed carry permit for the gun, which was loaded and resting on the front passenger seat.
Scalione is not facing charges and told Local 10 News reporter Madeleine Wright that racial slurs were thrown around from both sides.
"I was called a white a-- first. Nobody calls them racist," Scalione said. "I was called a b----. Nobody says they hate women."
Scalione said she doesn't believe the teens or her boyfriend are racist and said the incident was situational.
"All I see is 15 people running across the street toward my girlfriend -- over the median, toward my girlfriend," Bartlett said. "My first reaction is I have a gun on me. Whether I have a gun on me or not, I'm running to see and to protect my family. I had a gun, though. It wasn't loaded. I ran out there. You can see I never pointed it. I never threatened anybody. I just needed it in case something were to happen."
A teenage girl who took part in the protest said Bartlett only put the gun down after he saw that people were recording him.
Bartlett's attorneys released a statement last week, saying their client regrets the language he used toward the teens but maintains his innocence against the charge against him.
"Mark Bartlett sincerely regrets and apologizes for the offensive language he used on the Martin Luther King Holiday," attorneys Sidney Z. Fleischman and Walter A. Reynoso said in the statement. "That language is inexcusable. Mark is not a racist and his true character is not defined by the use of this offensive language on that day. Mark emphatically maintains his innocence. He is not guilty of any criminal conduct as he was legally defending a loved one that he believed was in danger. Mark strongly believes in our justice system and in the process."
The protesters, however, claim the couple violated Florida's hate crime statute by "repeatedly making statements containing racial insults and derogatory language."
They are seeking a jury trial and hope to be awarded damages for "pain and suffering, mental anguish, emotional distress, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorneys' fees and costs of the lawsuit," as well as "any other such relief the court deems just and proper."