Nashville Metro Police Department spokesman Don Aaron told The Tennessee Star on Monday city court officials refused to issue an arrest warrant for Justin Jones, the man who made national headlines and caused the biggest disruption at the Marsha Blackburn and Lindsey Graham political rally Sunday.
“Justin Jones was physically arrested and transported downtown where the officer requested warrants for the offenses of criminal trespassing, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. The judicial commissioner refused to issue the warrants and instructed the officer to charge Mr. Jones with only criminal trespassing by citation. As reported to us the commissioner’s name is Carolyn Piphus,” Aaron told The Star.
“I have no information on why she did that.”
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill said that the video and photographic evidence clearly shows Jones resisting arrest and physically assaulting those attending the event and fighting with the police officer.
“The fact that the judicial commissioner refused to issue the warrants requested by the police officer raises a serious question about whether she was motivated by partisan political considerations,” Gill said.
“Is there a blue thumb being placed on the scales of justice in Nashville courts?” Gill asked. “It is hard to believe that a conservative Republican engaging with a police officer in this same way would be given a get out of jail free card by Ms. Piphus or any other judicial commissioner. The General Sessions judges who oversee her and the District Attorney need to carefully review the way this case was handled,” Gill added.
No one at Nashville District Attorney General Glenn Funk’s office returned repeated requests for comment Monday.
As reported, several witnesses saw Jones apparently scuffling with police officers and other attendees, causing a scene at the Ray Stevens CabaRay Showroom in West Nashville. Law enforcement escorted Jones and a companion of his outside the premises, while onlookers shouted “USA! USA.”
Many people captured videos of the incident with their smartphones. One photograph captured an image of Jones, 23, grabbing a Blackburn supporter from behind while a police officer tried to restrain him.
“Mr. Jones, from the video I have seen, was not cooperative with the officer,” Aaron said.
Jones told The Star last month he attends Vanderbilt Divinity School. In a May op-ed published at The Tennessean, Jones said he attended Fisk University and was scheduled to enroll in Vanderbilt Divinity School in the fall.
Jones has a long history of aggressive political activism in Nashville that presses the boundaries of what is legally acceptable.
In February 2017, The Star reported that Jones was among several local left wing activists who harassed and intimidated State Sen. Mae Beavers and her staff at their offices at the State Capitol in Nashville.
What happened after the outburst
The Star has pieced together a narrative of what happened to Jones after officers removed him and his companion, later identified as Jeneisha Harris of Memphis, from the building by force. We did this using videos Jones streamed live on his personal Facebook page. We also interviewed Aaron and two Nashville court officials.
Even before Sunday’s rally began, Jones uploaded a video of himself stirring up trouble at the showroom.
Graham, a Republican U.S. senator from South Carolina, came to support Blackburn’s U.S. Senate bid. Blackburn is also a Republican. She is competing against Democrat Phil Bredesen, who is also Tennessee’s former governor.
In the video, apparently recorded around 30 minutes before Blackburn spoke, a man, seemingly a security guard, asked Jones and Harris to leave immediately.
The showroom is private property, not public property.
Jones, who apparently identifies as African-American, refused to leave because he said the unidentified man was “racially profiling” him. To prove Jones wrong, and to show that black people were welcome, the apparent security guard pointed to another man, an African-American, sitting in the background undisturbed, minding his own business.
Jones also said he wouldn’t leave because the apparent security guard was not a law enforcement officer.
The Vanderbilt student said he and Harris were on the list of people allowed to attend and that is how they got into the building.
In a statement posted Monday on his Facebook page, Jones said law enforcement officers and members of the audience later grabbed him and dragged him outside, but only after the event began.
Jones did another Facebook live stream, this time from the back of a patrol car where an officer detained him. In that video, Jones appeared frantic and claimed officers and other members of the audience assaulted him and that he screamed and “begged for help” as it allegedly happened.
Jones also said an officer put his knee on Jones’ head. Jones later said the officer hurt his jaw and that he planned to press charges against “this mob of white men.”
The officer who grabbed Jones and later detained him was African-American. On the video, Jones accused the officer, whom Aaron later identified as Alexander Donald, of “protecting white supremacy.”
“They threw us out,” Jones said.
“They were angry and said that we were not American. Is this what America looks like? An America where they throw people out and beat them for simply saying this hatred and this white supremacy is not American?”
Jones told the audience the Blackburn event “felt like a Klan rally.” He then, ironically enough, threatened to call 911 — as he sat in the back of the squad car.
Going to court
Officers took Jones downtown where, Aaron said, an officer requested arrest warrants on him. Piphus refused. She was apparently unavailable for comment Monday.
Two court officials, Nick Kiefer and Jay Gross, said they had no paperwork on Jones because he got a citation only, not an arrest.
“The only information our office has is when a warrant is granted and an arrest is made,” Kiefer said.
Gross said the same thing.
“If they gave him (Jones) a citation then it would probably be three weeks before the person has to come back in and go through the booking process before any documents are available (to us),” Gross said.
The Star asked Aaron whether officers saw a need to give Jones a mental health evaluation.
“In this instance, there was no indication to the officers that there were any type of mental issues involved,” Aaron said.
Later that day, Nashville Metro At-Large Council Member Erica Gilmore released a statement on her Twitter page supporting Jones.
On Monday, Jones took to Facebook again and told followers the FOX and ABC national outlets reported his story wrong.
“This racialized rhetoric of fear and division is not the story. The truth is that what happens in these type of rallies has a direct correlation to the violence that terrorized America last week, and yet they will not take responsibility,” Jones said.
Jones later complained of a “mob mentality” at the event — but only among Blackburn’s supporters.
“We will never again allow this narrative of fear and racism to go uninterrupted,” Jones wrote.
As for Harris, Aaron said a woman from Washington, D.C. who attended Sunday’s event pressed charges against her for alleged assault.
Because no law enforcement officers witnessed the alleged assault they only gave Harris a citation, Aaron said.
Officers escorted four other leftist protesters from the building Sunday after they too caused outbursts.
No one arrested them or issued citations for them, Aaron said.
“The others were asked to leave the building,” Aaron said.
“Ultimately, they did so peacefully.”
You can listen to the prayer delivered at the beginning of the rally by John Rose that immediately preceded the disruption by Jones here:
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