In the chaotic moments after Dallas and DART police officers were targeted by snipers and sprayed with bullets while working an otherwise peaceful “Black Lives Matter” demonstration in downtown Dallas, the hunt for the capital murderers immediately commenced.
The dragnet in the digital sphere quickly pointed to a man named Mark Hughes, who had been photographed at the rally wearing a camouflage shirt and toting an AR-15. The Dallas Police Department named Hughes as a ‘person of interest’ and blasted out a tweet of his photo with the post: “This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him.”
Attorney Michael Campbell, Jr. said the problem with that social media alert was that Hughes had not been involved in the sniper ambush.
“A friend gave him a call and said we see your picture all over social media and they are naming you as a person of interest in the shooting down here,” Campbell said. “And immediately he took his shirt off and gave his gun to the police officer.”
Campbell said Hughes gave up his firearm at the scene and removed his shirt off out of fear that his circulating photo and description might make him a target of police. Campbell, along with attorneys Corwyn Davis and Paul Saputo, are now representing Hughes and his brother Cory, both of whom turned themselves in to police.
“They volunteered,” Campbell said. “They came in by themselves.”
Even in a dangerous and quickly-evolving situation, Saputo was flabbergasted by the chain of events that led the two men to come forward to police.
“Our clients did nothing wrong,” Saputo said. “Google their names right now, look at them on Twitter and Facebook. Right now they are accused of the most heinous act that we can imagine -- that changed this city forever. They plastered his picture on Twitter, gave it to the media. The world saw him as a mass murderer. Why?
“Because he was a black man and he had a gun. That was a fundamental error and it was grave and it hurt him and it hurt us. It hurt us as a country and it is only going to contribute to where all this is headed -- and it is not a pretty picture.”
The trio of lawyers said there were several serious injustices that occurred in the fog of the tragedy. In addition to Mark Hughes being publicly labeled a suspect, they say when he and Cory Hughes voluntarily came forward to police, they were treated as suspects and were harshly interrogated.
Further, the attorneys said the men were deprived of their right to have their lawyers present because of an extraordinary degree of difficulty they had finding where the Hughes brothers were being held and then gaining access to them.
“We came credentialed, had our bar cards -- ‘Hey we’re attorneys and we are here for these guys,’” Davis explained. “And we got the runaround. At one point we were threatened with arrest. One officer even unholstered. So they were ready.”
Eventually, the lawyers retrieved their clients from Dallas City Hall. The city’s public information office sent out a follow-up Tweet:
“This man cooperated, was interviewed, released. He is not a suspect/person of interest,” read a tweet from public information officer Sana Syed.
Even as that message was offered, the previous post naming Hughes as a suspect had still not been pulled down by the police department.
This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him! pic.twitter.com/Na5T8ZxSz6— Dallas Police Depart (@DallasPD) July 8, 2016
Even if the post is pulled, Davis says the damage is done…that Hughes and his brother have, “Received thousands of death threats already.”
The lawyers expressed condolences for all the officers killed and wounded and sympathies to their families. They say they will examine their options in the days ahead and figure out how to proceed legally to protest what they believe was a gross violation of the Hughes’ civil rights.