By Nicole Neroulias
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Self-proclaimed Seattle superhero Phoenix Jones, a vigilante crime fighter, is due in court on Thursday to face charges that he assaulted a group of people with pepper spray outside a nightclub.
The costumed defendant, whose real name is Benjamin John Francis Fodor, 23, has become something of a local celebrity since he began patrolling downtown Seattle streets to break up fights and alert police to petty crimes in progress, such as drunken driving and car burglaries.
Disguised by a hooded mask and wearing a molded black-and-yellow suit of body armor, Fodor carries pepper spray, a Taser stun gun and a cell phone as he makes his late-night rounds. He also attends charity events on request.
Fodor is accused of going too far when he encountered a group of men and women outside a club in the early hours of Sunday morning. According to a police report, the victims were walking to their car, "dancing and having a good time," when Fodor "came up from behind and pepper-sprayed the group."
Two men in the group chased after Fodor, and police called to the scene "separated the involved parties," the report said. Fodor was booked into the King County Jail on four counts of assault and was released on $3,800 bail on Sunday afternoon.
Fodor has since sent out Twitter messages saying he was back on patrol and proclaiming himself innocent of wrongdoing.
"I WOULD NEVER ASSAULT OR HURT ANOTHER PERSON IF THEY WERE NOT CAUSING HARM TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING," he wrote in one tweet.
Thirteen minutes of shaky video footage taken by supporters to document Sunday's incident (http://vimeo.com/30307440), and posted online, shows Fodor being alerted to a "huge fight," then rushing on foot to the scene yelling, "call 911."
He wades into a group of people with a can of pepper spray as they scatter, yelling and cursing. Pandemonium ensues with several individuals chasing after Fodor and a masked sidekick. One woman is seen repeatedly beating Fodor with her shoes and screaming at him in the street before police finally arrive.
He was charged with four counts of misdemeanor assault and faces up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted. A court hearing was set for Thursday.
(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)