Editor's Note: A Georgia firefighter was indicted Wednesday for allegedly spewing racial slurs and aiming a handgun at a black couple at an Applebee’s last year.
The announcement came hours after The Daily Beast revealed initial misdemeanor charges against former Savannah fire captain Barry Arnold were quietly dropped.
Arnold is charged with felony aggravated assault for pointing his weapon at Marquist Curtis and Amber Phillips in the parking lot, following a bigoted tirade inside the restaurant where he allegedly called his waitress a “nigger.”
Arnold also faces charges including possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, simply battery and disorderly conduct, the Savannah Morning News reported.
Will Claiborne, an attorney for Curtis, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the couple feels “a mixture of relief and frustration” following the indictment.
“Relief that it’s finally, more than a year later, moving forward and frustration that it took so much work on their part for this to happen,” he said.
“If the roles were reserved, Marquist would have been in jail,” Claiborne added. “But instead, Barry Arnold has been walking around enjoying his rights as a citizen without repercussions.”
A Georgia fire captain was arrested for allegedly spewing racial slurs and threatening to kill a black couple while waving his gun. But one year later, charges against the veteran firefighter were inexplicably dropped.
A judge quietly dismissed the case against Barry Arnold—a 2014 Savannah Firefighter of the Year— in September after the government failed to prosecute, online court records show.
The 42-year-old father of three faced several misdemeanors for allegedly threatening to shoot Marquist Curtis and his fiancée, Amber Phillips, at a Savannah Applebee’s one Friday night in October 2015. He was originally charged with pointing a gun at another, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.
The incident remains under investigation, according to the Chatham County district attorney’s office, though no new charges have been filed. A spokeswoman told The Daily Beast the case is open and declined to comment further.
Still, Curtis and his supporters remain skeptical that prosecutor Meg Heap will again pursue charges against the city employee.
“We just want justice. No more, no less,” Curtis told The Daily Beast. “They’re trying to put what he did on hold.”
Curtis said the Savannah prosecutor’s office— the same that handled the jailhouse death of black college student Mathew Ajibade — never informed him they were dropping charges against Arnold. Instead, he found out through his attorney. “Nobody’s contacted us,” he said.
On the night of the encounter, Arnold was dining with his family when he became belligerent toward their waitress and called her a “nigger,” according to a police report. Then Arnold allegedly told his wife, “I don’t know how you like these niggers” and “I don’t know how they are just allowed to walk around.”
Despite Arnold’s tirades against African Americans, a staff member seated Curtis and Phillips at a booth next to him. Employees also continued to serve Arnold alcohol, Curtis claims. “He’s saying, ‘I got those black ass ribs just like those niggers,’” Curtis told The Daily Beast. “He looked over at my fiancée and said ‘I can’t stand those niggers.’”
“It really felt like he wanted us to hear him,” Curtis said, adding that he confronted Arnold when he called Phillips a “black bitch.”
When Curtis asked Arnold what his problem was, Arnold tried to kick him and tackled him into a table, injuring Curtis’s eye. That’s when Curtis and Phillips decided to leave, and Arnold allegedly followed them outside. As the couple walked to their vehicle, Arnold allegedly grabbed a gun from his own vehicle and pointed it at them.
Around the same time, Applebee’s staff locked the doors so the couple couldn’t get back inside, Curtis says.
“He’s walking over with his gun and badge, saying, ‘I’ve got the right to kill you niggers,’” Curtis told The Daily Beast.
A police report mirrors Curtis’s version of events.
Around 9:48 p.m., Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police responded to a call about a person with a gun at an Applebee’s on Abercorn Street.
According to the report, cops cuffed Arnold after he refused to comply with orders to spread his feet for a search. The arresting officer could smell the odor of alcohol on Arnold and noticed his speech was slightly slurred.
When the officer asked Arnold what happened, he allegedly replied that he “was attacked” because Curtis thought he used the “N word.”
Curtis told police that Arnold announced he was going to kill him and continued spewing the “N word” while waving his black semiautomatic pistol. A crowd began to form around the trio in the parking lot.
In his report, the police officer noted Curtis’s right eye was swollen and bloodshot, but he didn’t detect any odor of alcohol while speaking to Curtis and his fiancee.
Two bystanders corroborated Arnold’s bigoted outburst, including one woman who said she was seated next to Arnold and witnessed him calling Curtis the “N word” multiple times until Curtis eventually approached him. She said she attempted to separate the men.
The Applebee’s waitress, who did not return messages left by The Daily Beast, told police Arnold was angry over the chain’s service and began yelling the “N word” at her, so she ignored him, according to the report.
Will Claiborne, an attorney for Curtis, said both Applebee’s and the DA’s office has refused to allow him access to surveillance video of the frightening encounter.
This month, Claiborne’s firm released a YouTube video titled “How racist do you have to be to get kicked out of an Applebee’s?” The footage, which includes a rundown of the incident, provides contact information for prosecutor Meg Heap and asks callers to demand she charge Arnold with felony aggravated assault. The video also includes numbers for Applebee’s.
Heap’s office said it dismissed Arnold’s misdemeanor charges in state court but is investigating possible felony charges in superior court.
Meanwhile, a representative for Applebee’s said the priority of the restaurant was to ensure the safety of guests and employees.
“We have turned the video over to the police at the time of the incident. It rests solely in the authorities hands at this time,” said Neal Musmanno, director of operations at Apple American Group, which owns and operates hundreds of Applebee’s restaurants.
“As far as we know, it’s currently under investigation,” Musmanno added.
But Claiborne, Curtis’s attorney, says prosecutors are dragging their feet.
“You’ve got a captain in the fire department who pulls a gun on these people and says, ‘With this badge and this gun, I get to kill people and get away with it,’” he told The Daily Beast. “The police at the scene stop him while he’s trying to drive away.”
Claiborne says police should have charged Arnold with driving under the influence, aggravated assault and terrorist threats.
“We want to raise public awareness that this sort of injustice happens in 2016,” Claiborne said. “What would happen to anybody else other than a white captain in the fire department is just shocking.”
If Curtis had brandished a gun, “he’d probably still be sitting in jail right now,” Claiborne added.
Arnold, a nearly 20-year veteran of the fire department, was fired shortly after his arrest made headlines.
Richard Darden, an attorney for Arnold, said he expects the prosecutor to charge the former fireman with a felony.
“The DA’s office is probably politically motivated to push this case,” Darden told The Daily Beast. “They’re receiving a lot of pressure from the African American community. [But] there’s another side to every story.”
Darden said because Arnold was fired from his job of 20 years, “you’d think he suffered enough.”
“I can assure you we’re going to defend this case,” Darden said. “There’s a lot here that’s not been in the news.”
It’s not the first time Heap has come under scrutiny for her handling of cases involving African American victims.
Last year, The Daily Beast revealed the prosecutor was seeking a gag order for the relatives and attorneys of Mathew Ajibade, a Nigerian-born student who was found dead in a Chatham County jail cell.
Deputies arrested Ajibade on Jan. 1, 2015, after his girlfriend dialed 911 and tried to get cops to transport him to the hospital for bipolar disorder. Instead, Ajibade was put in isolation and stunned with a Taser while restrained. Graphic video of cops beating Ajibade and leaving him to die surfaced in October of last year.
Attorneys for Ajibade’s kin, including Claiborne, tried to get Heap thrown off the case, arguing that involuntary manslaughter charges against two deputies and a medical staffer were insufficient and that she was political allies with the county sheriff.
A jury acquitted all three of manslaughter.
According to the Savannah Morning News, one former deputy was sentenced to a month in custody and three years of probation for inflicting injury on Ajibade. A second deputy received six years of probation for falsifying records and perjury. The contract health care worker received a three-year suspended sentence.
The summer before the sentencing, Ajibade’s cousin told The Daily Beast that Heap never reached out to their family.
“It feels like the sheriff’s department was the victim and she was on their side,” Chris Oladapo said. “Living in Savannah … everyone knows everyone. What’s one black kid’s life … why let one kid’s life get in the way?”