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Seattle's self-styled superhero arrested

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
October 11, 2011 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Phoenix Jones, as he calls himself, says he jumped in to stop a fight
  • The people he hit with pepper spray say they were dancing
  • "What is this, Halloween?" a woman calls out to rubber-suited Jones
  • Jones patrols the streets of Seattle, often with a camera crew, looking for crime

Seattle, Washington (CNN) -- Instead of the traditional bad guys, it was the costumed, self-styled superhero that ended up behind bars after an altercation Sunday in Seattle.

Phoenix Jones, the moniker used by a man who dons a skintight black-and-gold rubber suit and mask, was arrested on four counts of assault after allegedly trying to break up a fight with pepper spray, the Seattle Police Department said.

According to the statement, a group of men and women were leaving a downtown Seattle club at 2:32 a.m. Sunday and "were dancing and having a good time" when an "unknown adult male suspect came up from behind and pepper sprayed the group," the statement said.

"He inserted himself and sprayed them with pepper spray," Seattle Police spokesman Mark Jamieson told CNN. Jones was arrested and charged with four counts of assault, Jamieson said.

But Jones claimed he used the pepper spray only to break up a fight and to protect himself. "I would never hurt or harm another person if they were not causing harm to another human being," read a message from Jones on his Facebook page.

For about a year, the masked Jones has patrolled the streets of Seattle, often with a film crew in tow, looking for crime and generating international headlines.

Jamieson said it is unclear how many -- if any -- crimes Jones has assisted police with. Police urge people to call 911 rather than take the law into their own hands, he added.

On a video released by Jones of the incident that led to his arrest, Jones is heard telling the film crew to call 911, then rushes into a crowd of people who appear to be engaged in an altercation.

A spokesman for Jones said he had no recourse but to get involved. "The fight was a huge group of people against a smaller group," said Peter Tangen. "It was an unfair fight, he went there to break it up."

A chaotic scene unfolds on the 13-minute video after Jones runs toward a man and woman who appear to be fighting. The man walks away and the woman then tries to hit Jones with her purse but instead falls onto the street.

"What is this, Halloween?" another woman calls out to rubber-suited Jones.

Eventually Jones is seen spraying several of the individuals with what appears to be a can of pepper spray.

Police spokesman Jamieson said Jones' actions were overkill. "If you see something that warrants calling 911, call 911. You don't need to dress up in a costume to do that."

Tangen asked CNN and other media not publish Jones' real name, which is listed in his police booking. "His family is at risk of retaliation from criminals," he said. Many, but not all, news outlets were going along with the request.

After he was arrested Sunday and before he was released without bond, Tangen said, Jones was roughed up by two men in the cell he was being held in. The spokesman said Jones was wearing his costume but police had taken away his mask.

Tangen said Jones was shoved but was not seriously hurt and plans to keep fighting crime despite his run-in with police.

"He will always be an activist," Tangen said.

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