Is It ‘Assault,’ or ‘Enforcement’? That Depends on the Costume

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Every night, 23-year-old Seattle resident Benjamin John Francis Fodor kisses his sleeping children, embraces his live-in girlfriend, then suits up to hit the streets as a crime fighter. During one recent evening patrol Fodor came upon what he believed was a fight outside a nightclub. He claims that when he intervened to break it up, some of the participants turned on him, and he was forced to use pepper spray in self-defense.

The people on the receiving end of the pepper spray said they were dancing, rather than fighting, when the oddly dressed stranger wearing body armor materialized and attacked them without provocation.

“In this particular case [Fodor] perceived that this group was fighting and when we contacted them, they said they weren’t fighting,” said Seattle Police Department spokesman Det. Mark Jamieson. However, one member of the group — a young woman who actually tried to defend the pepper spray victims — later said that there was a fight taking place. She did complain that Fodor’s actions were excessive and unwarranted.

Complicating matters further was the presence of a film crew, which was on the scene to document Fodor’s patrol. It’s possible that Fodor succumbed to “Showtime Syndrome” — an irresistible urge to play to the camera that led him to intervene when it wasn’t necessary. He claims that the video clearly documents that a fight was underway.

In short, Fodor made a snap judgment — apparently, the wrong one. Usually, when a police officer makes a mistake of that kind, he can expect to receive no more than an administrative sanction. However, Fodor was arrested. That’s because he’s not a police officer, but rather a self-styled “superhero” called “Phoenix Jones.” He is affiliated with the “Rain City Superhero Movement,” which is part of a loosely organized national movement inspired by the Justice League (or, less charitable people might conclude, the Mystery Men).

“Unfortunately, he used force,” insisted Det. Jamieson. “He committed a crime, an assault against these individuals. That’s against the law…. Just because he’s dressed up in costume, it doesn’t mean he’s … above the law.” Fodor may have acted with good intentions, Jamieson continued, but “it was so unnecessary. He didn’t need to insert himself into that situation.”

That’s right: Seattle can’t afford to have oddly dressed people prowling the streets, ready to wade into ambiguous situations and use unnecessary force. Unless, of course, they’re government-licensed purveyors of mayhem, such as Ian Birk – the Seattle Police Officer who murdered local artist John Williams on a street corner in August 2010.

Williams, a woodcarver and chronic inebriate, was carrying a carving knife in a crosswalk when Birk pulled up in a cruiser. Seven seconds later, Williams was dead. While Birk was forced to resign from the department, no criminal charges were filed against him.

Fodor’s problem, you see, was that he wasn’t wearing a government-issued costume.


10:09 am on October 13, 2011