An armed man who was marching peacefully with anti-police violence protesters Thursday in Dallas, Texas, received death threats and other harassment after the Dallas Police Department posted his picture on Twitter and falsely identified him as a suspect in the shooting deaths of five officers.
Thursday night, a lone gunman with a sniper rifle opened fire on Dallas police officers, killing five and wounding another seven before ultimately being taken out by a bomb-carrying police robot. Amid the chaos and confusion on the scene, police identified Mark Hughes as a suspect and asked for the public's help in finding him.
Without giving any additional information, the DPD (Dallas Police Department) posted a picture of Hughes wearing a camouflage shirt and carrying a rifle on its official Twitter account with the caption, "This is one of our suspects. Please help us find him!"
From there, the picture spread around social media and was featured on countless television broadcasts, making Hughes — for a brief time — one of the most wanted men in America.
‘System trying to get me’
It is legal in Texas to openly carry a rifle, with the proper authorization. Hughes, an avid supporter of the Second Amendment to the Constitution's right to bear arms, was doing just that. Having no idea that his face was plastered on television and computer screens across the country, Hughes was, by his own account, "laughing and talking with police officers" as he marched with the crowd.
Hughes told a local CBS affiliate that he received a phone call from a friend telling him police were searching for him as a suspect in the shooting. He immediately flagged down a police officer and handed over his weapon. Police questioned Hughes for about 30 minutes and then released him, he said.
While in the interrogation, though, things took a dark turn, as Hughes said police told him they had video footage and witness statements showing he fired his gun, which he said "is a lie."
"At the end of the day, the system was trying to get me," he said.
During a Friday news conference, lawyers for Hughes said he was carrying his gun legally and argued that the DPD's tweet and media exposure put his life in jeopardy.
"They have received thousands of death threats already. Unfortunately, there was a lot of negligence with that picture," said attorney Corwyn Davis.
Hughes told the CBS reporter he was "absolutely" afraid for his safety now that the world has seen his picture. His brother, Corey, said police refused to publicly clear his name.
"Before we left [the police station] I turned and I asked the cop, I said, ‘Sir, I see you guys doing interviews in front of the station, are you willing to tell the world these two young black men had nothing to do with it?' And he said, ‘No,'" Corey Hughes said.
The tweet containing Mark Hughes' picture remained on the DPD Twitter page for most of the day Friday, before eventually being removed. Earlier Friday morning, DPD clarified that Hughes wasn't a suspect, but instead referred to him as a "person of interest."