“Freedom and legalize weed,” raps Jawga Boi, a local artist. “The people’s DA who we need. Mark Jones, right now.”
The tie-clad subject of the campaign rap video steps into the circle of people holding election signs and leaning against parked cars, grabbing his suit lapels and bobbing in time to the music.
The camera pans out to an aerial shot of cars doing donuts in the Columbus Civic Center parking lot, leaving skid marks from the burning rubber.
And that’s where the trouble began.
In three short weeks, Mark Jones, running to be district attorney for the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit in Georgia, was arrested on charges related to the campaign music video, got out of jail and still successfully primaried a three-term incumbent to become the next presumptive DA. He and incumbent Julia Slater were competing in the Democratic primary, but it was a general election for all intents and purposes as no Republican is running.
But first, two of the young men who drove the cars in the music video were arrested on charges including felony interference with government property and first-degree criminal damage to property, according to Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office records. The two, Christopher Black and Erik Whittington, were initially held on bonds of about $250,000, later lowered to around $31,000 a piece, per the local Ledger-Enquirer. The two are black and had no previous criminal records.
Jones took to Facebook to call the charges “total bullshit.”
“Julia Slater with one penstroke could get those boys out of there,” he said. “A $200,000 to 300,000 bond for some scuff marks — that’s an attempt to intimidate me, to intimidate people helping me and to basically steal an election and suppress the votes.”
Slater told local outlets that she had nothing to do with the arrests and recused herself from the case.
In the video, Jones added that he “suspected” he would be arrested soon after.
He was right. A few days later, Columbus police put a warrant out for Jones’ arrest, actually asking the public for help in locating him. They claimed that the video had put the public in “serious danger.”
He was charged with attempting to commit reckless conduct, conspiracy to commit reckless conduct, conspiracy to commit interference with government property, conspiracy to commit criminal damage to property and two counts of attempting to commit interference with government property, according to the sheriff’s records.
His lawyer, Christopher Breault, said that the claims were “fabricated” in a Facebook post.
Breault claimed that nearby police officers witnessed the filming of the video and donuts in the parking lot and “didn’t care.” He said that police only took action days later after Jones gave an interview during which he accused police officers of confiscating marijuana and smoking it on the job.
“Less than 24 hours later,” he said, “Columbus Police stormed the residences of Chris Black and Erik Whittington—drivers of the cars doing donuts—and arrested them with multiple felonies.”
In a video Jones recorded on the way to turn himself in, while wearing a bulletproof vest due to the “trigger-happy cops,” he assured his voters that the charges did not disqualify him from being DA and that some parts of the case, like the high bails for a nonviolent crime, are exactly why he ran in the first place.
A day after his arrest, Jones, who is white, was let out of jail on his own recognizance — aka, without having to pay any bail money.
“Although Mr. Jones was given a reasonable bond (no money), it doesn’t change the fact that Erik Whittington and Chris Black—two nice, productive young African-American men with no criminal records—were taken from their homes, arrested, and put behind bars with multiple felonies and NO BOND on one charge, and a $300,000.00 on the other,” Breault wrote on Facebook. He added that their bond was eventually lowered, still calling the amount “completely inappropriate.”
Jones was out of jail and back on the campaign trail. As protesters took to the streets across the country to protest police brutality, Jones, who bills himself as “the people’s DA,” joined in.
“My firm, among others, will defend you for free,” Jones said in a Facebook video. According to the Ledger-Enquirer, Jones represented 16 protesters a few days later who were arrested for failing to disperse.
About a week later, it was election day in Muskogee County. The DA race suffered as did elections statewide due to issues with the new voting machines, and the voting deadline was extended until 9 p.m.
The vote count ended Wednesday night after being suspended on Tuesday when polls closed. Jones had triumphed 52 percent to Slater’s 48. Jones will be the next DA.
While speaking to the Enquirer after his win, Jones attributed his upset win to the anger at police brutality and racial injustice currently engulfing the country.
“That was my message, was they want change; they want it now,” he said. “They’re sick of what’s going on in the criminal justice system, and they are demanding reform.”