Miami judge rejects self-defense claim by man who pulled gun on Black teens, used racial slur

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A Miami-Dade judge on Thursday night rejected a self-defense claim by a man who pulled a gun on a group of Black teenage protesters and hurled racial slurs in an episode that garnered national attention.

Circuit Judge Alberto Milian ruled that Mark Bartlett, 54, of Broward County, did not act reasonably in getting out of his SUV and pulling a pistol on a group of teen protesters who had stopped traffic near the Brickell Bridge in downtown Miami. He declined to dismiss the case.

“The use of racial comments shows he was simmering,” Milian said Thursday evening, after a two-day Stand Your Ground hearing. “He was an angry man. He was inconvenienced. He wanted to go back to Broward County. There was no reasonable justification.”

A jury will now have to decide whether Bartlett is guilty of three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm, enhanced under Florida’s “hate crime” law, plus carrying a concealed weapon and improper exhibition of a firearm. A trial is set for Dec. 6.

The judge ruled after Bartlett, testifying publicly for the first time Thursday, insisted that he was “being held hostage” as his SUV was stuck in traffic — and that he was goaded into repeatedly using the n-word. He insisted he wasn’t an angry racist and was “like putting on a show” when he yelled the slur.

“Was there any racial component,” prosecutor Jonathan Borst asked.

“In my head, no,” Bartlett said. “It’s a derogatory term for Black people. But racist? No.”

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The high-profile incident erupted on the afternoon of Jan. 21, 2019 — when a group of teens were protesting a lack of affordable housing in Liberty City by blocking the roadway in downtown Miami near the Brickell Bridge. An offshoot of the “Wheels Up Guns Down” movement that has become prevalent during the holiday, the group called itself “Bikes Up Guns Down.”

The court heard that Bartlett and his fiancee, Dana Scalione, were first stuck in traffic and grew angry. Bystander video introduced into court showed Bartlett yelling “n---rs suck!” three times. He insisted that he was only responding to one of the young men on a bicycle calling him a “cracker.”

“It’s not something I am proud of. I unfortunately stooped to his level. I said what I said. I can’t take it back,” Bartlett testified. “I didn’t mean anything. The words themselves don’t mean anything. It was just me playing tit for tat.”

Bartlett claimed he was being “held hostage against my will.”

Borst was incredulous, pointing out that Bartlett could have called 911 if he was being held against his will.

“You were a 52-year-old man screaming at someone you don’t know in broad daylight,” Borst also pointed out.

Scalione got out of their car, and testified that a young female protester “body checked” her before she got back in the car, although there was no video or witnesses to back up the claim. Minutes later, near the Brickell Bridge, she got out again.

A cellphone video clip captured by an activist who was tagging along with the teens captured Scalione calling the kids “thugs” and screaming at the teens. She accused one of them of riding over her foot with a bicycle.

A few seconds after her tirade, Bartlett got out, walked up and held his gun and told one of the kids, “Get out of here you piece of s---,” subsequently hurling racial slurs at them.

One of the teens, then 16, testified Monday that Bartlett “looked very mad.”

“You could see he was dangerous. I was in shock. I ain’t know what to do,” he testified.

Bartlett painted himself as saving Scalione, who he said was surrounded by a mob of teens. “I pulled a gun out because they surrounded my fiancee, not because I was stuck in traffic,” he testified.

His defense lawyer, Bruce Lehr, acknowledged that the racial slurs were “mean, hateful, cruel.” But he said this case was not a “test of Bartlett’s maturity.”

Lehr cast the blame on the teenagers who wore masks, stopped traffic, badmouthed Bartlett, banged on cars stopped in traffic and roughed up Scalione.

“This is frightening. This is not a war zone,” Lehr told the judge. “This is a street in a civilized city.”

Still, Judge Milian pointed out that he wasn’t shown any evidence that the teens were a threat. “I didn’t see any of the protesters doing anything violent,” he said. “I do see Ms. Scalione engaged in some very heated arguments and aggressive posturing.”

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