MIAMI – Hate crime charges have been filed against Mark Bartlett, 51, who was caught on cellphone video last month holding a gun while slinging racial slurs at a group of black children who were blocking a bridge in Brickell during a protest, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Bartlett was initially charged with carrying a concealed firearm, but Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced in a news release that Bartlett is now charged with three counts of aggravated assault with prejudice, enhanced to a second-degree felony; one count of improper exhibition of a firearm, enhanced to a third-degree felony; and one count of carrying a concealed firearm, which is a third-degree felony.
"Those three victims were assaulted with a firearm. They believe they were and we believe their testimony," Fernandez Rundle told Local 10 News.
The Hate Crimes Enhancement was "created by the Florida Legislature to provide stiffer penalties for a conviction when an offense was motivated by prejudice," the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office said in a news release.
"The hate crimes unit did a great job of putting together that series of events that led to these charges," Fernandez Rundle said.
A video of the incident on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was widely shared on social media and shows the group of children on bicycles arguing with a woman on the Brickell Avenue Bridge. The woman, identified as Dana Scalione, claims one of the boys ran over her foot with his bike and a screaming match ensues, the video shows.
"Don't touch me, you bunch of thugs," Scalione tells the teens as she walks away from them.
The teens then shout obscenities at her.
Moments later, a man, identified by police as Bartlett, approaches the teens, 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.
The video was posted by Dream Defenders Action, saying the teens were protesting redevelopment of the Liberty Square public housing complex.
Bartlett told Local 10 News he took out his gun because his girlfriend was outnumbered by the teens and he feared for her safety.
"All I see is 15 people running across the street toward my girlfriend -- over the median, toward my girlfriend," he 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."
Scalione said racial slurs were thrown around from both sides, but doesn't feel anyone in the situation should be labeled a racist.
"I was called a white a-- first. Nobody calls them racist," Scalione said. "I was called a b----. Nobody says they hate women. I'm called things that are derogatory to that person for one aspect of them. I'm a woman, they're going to call me a b----. I'm white, so they're going to call me a white a--. I don't believe they're racist. I don't believe they have a fundamental issue with a category of people. They're angry with me. It's situational."
Bartlett's attorneys at the time released a statement a week after the incident, saying their client "sincerely regrets and apologizes for the offensive language he used on the Martin Luther King Holiday."
Their statement went on to say that Bartlett "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."
Five of the young protesters have since filed a lawsuit against the couple, seeking damages for the protesters' "pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress."
"We are disappointed the State Attorney has succumbed to the political pressure rather than obeying the tenets of the law," Bartlett's current attorneys, Jayne Weintraub and Jonathan Etra, said in a statement. "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 State Attorney has compounded the City of Miami's negligence by failing to investigate the situation thoroughly, interview independent witnesses, and reach a result based on the law; not politics.
"It's a shame the State Attorney's platform for lawfulness has now turned into one of endorsing lawlessness. 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."
Fernandez Rundle said her office is filing a motion to increase Bartlett's bond. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges Wednesday morning.