The (Alleged) Adventures of Phoenix Jones
Trying to uncover what’s real and what isn’t about Seattle’s most famous superhero.
On a dark and drizzly night in downtown Seattle, five strangers huddle outside police headquarters awaiting the arrival of the man who calls himself Phoenix Jones. Scheduled to be here at half-past midnight, it’s now 1 a.m. and the city’s most famous real-life superhero is nowhere to be found.
Three-fifths of the group is part of a local documentary film crew that has been following Jones and his team of “Rain City Superheroes” on foot patrols for the past three months. Already familiar with Jones’ modus operandi, the filmmakers are in no hurry. “Last night they made us wait an hour,” says one, as she rummages through her purse in search of a granola bar. “Tonight I brought a snack.”
Suddenly, one of the crew spots Jones’ familiar black-and-gold mask and matching rubber suit behind the steering wheel of a passing Kia sedan. A few minutes later, Jones rounds a corner on foot and strides towards the group, trailed by two men in black neoprene balaclavas.
“Hi,” he says, in a gruff approximation of Christian Bale’s sandpaper growl in The Dark Knight. “I’m Phoenix Jones.” He stands six feet tall, with a patch of curly black whiskers protruding from the dark brown skin on his chin, which, along with his mouth, is the only portion of his face not concealed by the mask. Fingerless gloves with lead-lined knuckles augment his firm handshake, and in his utility belt he carries a protective arsenal; cattle prod, tear gas, handcuffs, and a first-aid kit.
Jones introduces his nightstick-toting associates as Ghost and Pitch Black, and then outlines the evening’s agenda. With last call approaching, the plan is to make the rounds in Pioneer Square before heading up First Avenue to Belltown. “By then it will be the crack hour,” he says, referring to the wee hours of the morning when business is booming at one of the city’s most notorious open-air drug markets. But first, with three cameramen in tow, Jones and his sidekicks plunge headlong into the mob of drunken twenty-somethings spilling out onto the streets.
Frat boys holler, “Love your work, bro!” and tipsy girls in skimpy outfits squeal “Ooh, take a picture with me!” Jones stops and mugs for dozens of camera-phone portraits with his fans while ignoring the taunts—”Hey look, it’s Joaquin Phoenix! You ruled in Gladiator, dude!”—of others.
Passing through a parking lot, he and his posse catch a whiff of marijuana smoke. “You smell that?” he asks. “That’s not a crime. Stupid, but not a crime.”
Outside The Last Supper Club, a girl trips and hits the pavement in full view of a few uniforms. Jones darts to the rescue, helping her up and reaching for his first-aid kit, but the young lady and her friends stumble off into the night before he can offer her a Band-Aid.
“In that situation we did the right thing,” Jones says to his crew. “But it doesn’t matter if the police are right there. Our job is to be where they aren’t.”
With that, the superheroes start heading north toward Belltown, making sure to stop at every crosswalk with a red light because, says Jones, he was once issued a jaywalking citation while in costume. Just inside the main entrance to Pike Place Market, Jones pauses to chat up a guy struggling to load a belligerently drunk girl into the backseat of a car. A group of bystanders stop to gawk at the spectacle.
“I don’t trust the cops, but I trust Phoenix Jones,” says one of the onlookers.
The man’s friend is incredulous. “Well, what’s he done?” she asks. “What does he actually do when something breaks out?”
“He puts himself in harm’s way. He got his nose broken before. He gets right in the middle of situations.”
“Yeah, but that’s something any other drunk person would do.”
“Well, yeah, but he’s wearing a costume.”
This back-and-forth between late-night revelers is representative of Jones’ polarizing personae. Since he began patrolling the Seattle streets in late 2010—wearing an outfit complete with bulletproof vest, “ballistic cup,” and “stab plates”—he has turned into a lighting rod for controversy not just among regular Seattleites, but also police, reporters, and, incredibly, other self-styled “Real Life Superheroes,” many of whom scoff at the notion of “fighting crime,” and instead prefer to perform good deeds while clad in comic book-inspired attire.
But while Jones’ critics are skeptical of his motives and harrowing tales of near-death, he has scores of supporters who either like his shtick or believe him when he says he pounds the pavement on their behalf. “I’m the first superhero to come along and come as close to a comic book as possible,” says Jones. “I fight crime like you see in a comic book. I get hurt like you would get hurt in a comic book. I have an alter ego like you would have in a comic book. I’m interesting and I’m charismatic on-camera, off-camera, and in person. People want to know what I’m doing. They want to get to know me.”
So who is this masked man with the cojones to call himself the “Guardian of Seattle”? How did he engineer his faster-than-a-speeding-bullet ascent to celebrity? And, more important, has he really helped police catch any criminals?
Jones has a Los Angeles-based publicist to help hone his image as a knight in shining rubber. And to hear him tell it, he’s only in the game to do good.
“Fighting crime in the mask and rubber suit, no matter how awesome I do or how many criminals I lock up, eventually it will lose its appeal to the people,” he says. “The goal is for the people to be inspired by what I do. The goal is to inspire people to not put up with petty crimes.”
But while Jones is busy puffing up his body armor-protected chest on the nightly news, in real life he has accumulated a 22-entry-long court record filled mostly with minor violations, but also including a restraining order after he allegedly made death threats against another costumed crusader. And though police reports and 911 recordings obtained by Seattle Weekly indicate that Jones has, in fact, phoned in numerous suspected lawbreakers over the past seven months, the records show that his efforts have resulted in more amusing whiffs than actual arrests.
What kind of person dresses up like a superhero? Long before Hollywood unleashed Kick-Ass and Super—two movies released within the past year about real people who don capes and masks—Tea Krulos was asking himself that very same question.
Krulos, a freelance journalist from Milwaukee who pens the blog “Heroes in the Night” and is working on a book with the same title, has traced the “real life superhero” phenomenon back to Captain Sticky, a man who called in-costume press conferences in early 1970s San Diego in order to draw attention to causes he thought deserved more attention, like a nursing home caught abusing its patients. Because Captain Sticky was a spectacle, his exploits usually caught the attention of the press, who were always willing to put a mic in his face.
According to various estimates, Captain Sticky has now begat between 250 and 500 self-proclaimed superheroes worldwide. On the website RealLifeSuperheroes.org, the men—for that is who they are, with few exceptions—create profiles and talk shop, with threads like “Grapple Gun. Possible?” (The verdict: definitely possible, not practical.)
Krulos says that the majority of these “citizen heroes,” as they call themselves, resemble their founding father Captain Sticky in that they would rather feed the needy than bust heads. In New York, a Brooklyn man who simply calls himself Life is the co-founder of Superheroes Anonymous, a group that makes small gestures like giving fresh socks to the homeless in order to prevent foot fungus. In Seattle, more than two years before Jones first went on patrol, a man named White Baron started roaming the streets handing out food and clothing. “A lot do it because they want to help out their neighborhoods and communities and they see this as a fun, adventurous way to do that,” says Krulos.
In the back room of the Night Kitchen in Belltown, a few evenings after his Friday-night patrol, Phoenix Jones shares his own origin story. One that, in his rehearsed telling, doesn’t sound as much like a call to adventure as a call to duty.
It all began sometime last year, when Jones says a thief shattered his car window with a stone stuffed in a ski mask. (He declined to provide an exact date or month.) Jones, a married 23-year-old day-care worker with two young sons, picked up the discarded mask and threw it in his glove box, he says, without giving it a second thought.
Then, the next night, while at a club celebrating a friend’s birthday, a fight broke out between two of Jones’ friends and a larger group of men. Running to his car to retrieve his cell phone—Jones says he never keeps it in his pocket because he doesn’t want to risk damaging it when he break-dances—Jones, a cage fighter in his spare time, impulsively threw on the mask and chased down the fight’s instigator.
“Basically, I was reacting to a crime,” he says. “People might call it a strong overreaction, and I wouldn’t disagree. It’s a different reaction than most people would have.”
When police arrived and asked Jones for a name, he gave them an alias he says has “personal significance.” Emboldened by the thrill of the chase, Jones soon ditched the ski mask and upgraded his getup to include a fedora, cape, blue tights, a white belt, and a face covering.
“The first time [my wife] saw me she said, ‘Aren’t those nylons from Wal-Mart? Aren’t you going to get a real suit?’ ” he says.
Growing up in foster homes that he shared with more than 30 adopted siblings, Jones says he wasn’t a hard-core comic book fan, but a big enough one to have a favorite: Nightwing, the alter ego of Dick Grayson, the original Robin who left Batman and struck out on his own. Copying Nightwing’s style, Jones upgraded a final time when he ditched his lighter ensemble and ordered the skintight black-and-gold suit he still wears today.
Then, on Nov. 19, 2010, Jones earned his first headline when SeattlePI.com reported on an internal memo circulating among Seattle Police warning officers not to mistake a new group of do-gooders for criminals. A spooked Capitol Hill resident saw Jones and his entourage in masks outside of a gas station and called 911, assuming he was about to witness a robbery. The story included a blurry photo of Jones posing with a uniformed officer and, shortly thereafter, a viral sensation was born.
According to the Lexis-Nexis news database, Jones has now been mentioned in more than 350 articles worldwide. He’s made appearances on Good Morning America and National Public Radio, and appeared on the pages of publications as diverse as People magazine and The United News of Bangladesh. His Facebook page has been friended by more than 7,000 people, and videos he and others have uploaded to YouTube have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. With his brash personality, occasionally self-deprecating sense of humor, and unwavering righteousness, Jones is a veritable sound-bite machine. As a result, nearly every story about him has been fawning, without trying to verify any of his supposedly courageous exploits, or acknowledging that they are, for the most part, completely unverifiable.
On Jan. 4, for example, KIRO aired a report on Jones that focused on an attempted car theft that allegedly took place in Lynnwood. A man who appeared on camera but refused to give his last name said he interrupted a thief trying to break into his car. Just as the man was about to dial 911, he said, Jones “came dashing in” and chased the thief away. Only when the story went national did a reporter from Talking Points Memo reach out to Lynnwood Police, who cautioned that the Department couldn’t confirm the story. Contacted recently by Seattle Weekly, Lynnwood Police spokesman Shannon Sessions goes one step further: the story “was found to be a false report—never happened.”
When The Wall Street Journal reported on Jones in April, the article’s author noted the backlash against Jones in the Real Life Superhero Community, many of whose members believe he’s less than truthful and attention-hungry. Jones’ peers are suspicious of his tales of glory, and multiple superheroes contacted for this article either turned down interview requests or made clear their doubts.
“He tells a ton of lies, makes up stories, and embellishes and exaggerates what he does,” writes Dark Guardian, co-administrator of Real LifeSuperHeroes.org, in an e-mail. “I’m very surprised no one in the media has called him out on it yet.”
When Jones debuted last November, he made it clear he wasn’t like other superheroes. Though he claims he’s donated thousands of dollars to several charities (records show he donated $500 to the international aid program Water for Africa; he also says he has contributed food and funds to Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission) he insists humanitarian work should be done on personal, not superhero, time. As he puts it: “There’s no comic book where Spider-Man runs around with a bag of sandwiches.”
On this point, Jones has an unlikely ally: Agent Beryllium, Seattle representative for ROACH—Ruthless Organization Against Citizen Heroes, a group of supervillians who have emerged to poke fun at the wannabe crusaders. Beryllium—who, along with nearly everyone else in the super subculture, asked that her real name be withheld—doesn’t think the superheroes should be getting so much publicity for their good deeds.
“Just be responsible people in your everyday lives,” she says.
Then again, Beryllium isn’t too fond of Jones either.
“He’s a special case,” she says. “Being an attention whore is one thing, but almost overnight he goes from being a guy with a cape and a fedora to wearing expensive plastic molded body armor. It just smells fishy to me.”
Peter Tangen had a hand in the transformation Beryllium finds so fishy. A Los Angeles photographer whose portfolio includes the posters for Batman Begins, Hellboy, and the Spider-Man series, Tangen is also the creator of a website (RealLifeSuperheroes.com, not to be confused with the .org forum) that features summer blockbuster-style portraits of two dozen costumed crusaders from across the country. Tangen says he initially set out to shoot the superheroes for a gallery exhibition, but after learning about their altruism, he began doing what he could to help them, accepting charitable donations on his website, and, occasionally, acting as a middleman with reporters.
Jones took the superhero world by storm a few months after Tangen completed his photography project, and Tangen says he decided to help him spread his message that “the problems of this world will never be solved until people realize one person can make a difference.” Tangen is now Jones’ de facto spokesman, in charge of coordinating his many interviews and appearances. The day after his Friday-night patrol of Pioneer Square, for instance, Jones was scheduled to visit three Seattle comic-book stores in conjunction with a nationwide Free Comic Book Day event. Tangen insists there’s never a fee for Jones’ services, adding, “To my knowledge, he’s never made a penny doing this.”
“Peter has been really instrumental in shaping the way I do things,” says Jones. “I had all the natural skills and all the raw talent, but he focused it.”
Dealing with a self-described superhero and his PR guru is sometimes an exercise in absurdity. When first contacted by Seattle Weekly via email, Jones responded with Tangen’s phone number and instructions to use a code word—”Twin Brother”—when calling Tangen so that the publicist would know he had Jones’ permission to talk. Then, on the eve of Jones’ interview, Tangen emailed to ask that photos of his client be staged so as to not show a portion of his suit that had been damaged by a mysterious fire.
By all accounts, Tangen has worked wonders for Jones’ career, such as it is. Earlier this year, Jones flew to Los Angeles and appeared in full regalia at the premiere of Super, the superhero comedy starring Rainn Wilson. (Wilson, a Seattle native, also name-dropped Jones on Jimmy Kimmel Live, joking that he has “taken 197 crack pipes away from people.”) In addition, Jones claims he turned down an offer for his own reality TV show, leaving $200,000 on the table because he didn’t like the concept.
“I would like to have a TV show where Phoenix Jones travels around the world inspiring people,” he says. “I don’t want a giant house and a Lamborghini like Batman—that’s just stupid. I want to be able to say to people on the street… ‘This is the Phoenix Jones apartment complex where you can rent with no credit.’ ”
Jones is cryptic about the cause of the malfunctioning wardrobe referenced by Tangen. “It got melted, I got burned,” he says, refusing to elaborate. “It’s unverifiable, and whenever I open my mouth and say something unverifiable, it sounds like I’m lying.”
Indeed, Jones’ tales have raised eyebrows among skeptical journalists and superheroes alike.
“I can’t really ever get the truth out of Mr. Jones,” says Skyman, a Seattle-area character who focuses on homeless outreach and has twice patrolled with Jones. “The guy came in with a track record of ‘I’ve been shot and stabbed,’ but he has no proof, and we’re supposed to take him on his word.”
When pressed for evidence to verify his near-death encounters—which include the two serious claims alluded to by Skyman: one a shooting in Tacoma, another a stabbing in Seattle—Jones draws a blank. He claims to have a private doctor who treats his serious injuries, which also allegedly include getting hit with a baseball bat and punched by an attacker with keys wedged between his knuckles, but Jones says the doctor won’t agree to an interview for fear of losing his medical license. Jones also never followed through on an offer to hand over his medical records.
What’s more, neither of his two most harrowing encounters—the shooting and stabbing—were reported to police. “I was walking through an alleyway in Tacoma,” says Jones. “I wasn’t involved in any altercation. I wasn’t involved in any fight. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I got shot.”
Jones says a bulletproof vest saved his life, but nearly getting gunned down after just a few weeks on the job made him reconsider his superhero career. Jones claims he took a month off and eased back in by handing out food at a homeless camp. There, a knife fight broke out, he says, and he got cut when he intervened.
During the interview at the Night Kitchen, Jones offers to take off his suit and show his scars as proof that what he’s saying is true. Shirtless but still wearing his mask, he ignores the bewildered glances from a couple across the room and asks his partner Pitch Black to point out the remnants of several wounds on his back.
He has a few welts below his right shoulder blade, which he claims were caused by the fire that damaged his suit, and a faint, quarter-inch-long scar on his upper forearm that he says he got in the line of duty. But there’s nothing around his midsection where Jones says he was stabbed.
“Looks like that one healed up, bro,” says Pitch Black.
In an attempt to independently verify some of Jones’ alleged exploits, Seattle Weekly filed a public disclosure request with Seattle Police seeking information about every call for service that has involved Phoenix Jones and/or his real-life identity. As of May 5, there were a total of 18 incidents. Officers filed reports in seven cases, but ended up making just two arrests.
The first arrest occurred around 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 18 in the northbound lanes of I-5 at Northeast 80th Street. It is classified on the paperwork as a “pedestrian violation” but all other information is redacted from the paragraph-long report. Jones declined to discuss the encounter, except to confirm that he dialed 911 and claim that the arrest is tied to “an ongoing drug investigation.”
Other documents are more detailed. Shortly after midnight on Dec. 12, Jones was inside Pioneer Square nightclub Venom when he called the cops claiming an Asian man offered him sex with a woman for $100. Jones, the report says, “realized this was a prostitution arrangement and was concerned for the victim because it appeared that [she] could not speak any English.” The officers interviewed the alleged pimp and hooker, but didn’t arrest either of them, and Jones refuses to discuss the details of the case.
On Feb. 20, Jones reported a domestic dispute after he spotted a man “grabbing” his wife in the couple’s Rainier Beach driveway. The responding officer reported smelling alcohol on the man’s breath, and was told the argument began when the woman stormed out of the house after discovering that her husband had been mailed a copy of Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue. It was just an argument, they said, and it never escalated to physical violence. Jones claims he saw the man pull the woman’s hair, but he didn’t mention this to the 911 dispatcher. Once again, police did not make an arrest.
As proof that he doesn’t embellish, Jones cites one of his more high-profile encounters. On Jan. 12, KOMO reported that Jones got his nose broken during a street brawl in Belltown. He reportedly pinned a drug dealer to the ground, but then two other attackers caught him off-guard. One held him at gunpoint and the other kicked him in the face. All three ran away before police arrived on the scene. (Records show that police responded to a 911 call from Jones on Jan. 11 at First Avenue and Madison Street, but were “unable to locate the incident or complainant” and did not file a report.)
Jones claims that KOMO had footage of the fight, but agreed not to broadcast it in exchange for an interview with him. But when reached by phone, the station’s news director Holly Gauntt says that’s not true. She says Jones put them in touch with someone who allegedly taped the incident on a camera phone. Another witness seconded Jones’ version of events, which was enough for KOMO to broadcast their story, but the video evidence never materialized. “We never saw it,” says Gauntt. “No deals were made. We wouldn’t do that.”
till, Jones won’t back down.
“If you guys want to call me a liar and say I make up stories, why don’t I win every time?” asks Jones. “Getting my nose broken was not a win.”
The only other known Jones-related arrest came on April 21, when he and Pitch Black teamed up for a drug bust in the University District. Pitch Black was out of costume when a man reportedly offered to sell him heroin. Jones swooped in and detained him until police arrived. The suspect voluntarily emptied his pockets, and was arrested after police discovered “a clear straw containing a brownish residue” and a “red, heart-shaped box,” with five oxycodone pills inside.
Jones claims he has contributed to additional arrests in Everett and Tacoma, but spokesmen for both police departments say they can’t turn up any cases involving Jones. Tangen also says there is an ongoing SPD investigation that started with a tip from Jones. It deals with “a sex trafficker,” Tangen says, repeating a story also told by Jones, “Not a guy who’s a pimp with prostitutes . . . when [police] went to his house, there were prisoners.”
Sgt. Ryan Long, a detective in SPD’s vice squad, confirms that Jones “was a complainant in something” but also suggests his role was minor. “I don’t know what he’s claiming,” says Long, “But I’ve had inquiries from other journalists in the past. I would suspect he’s shopping you guys off of each other.”
Upon hearing Long’s remarks, Jones simply shrugs. He has doubters, he says, but he does not doubt himself.
“I think there’s a healthy amount of skepticism in general with writers about what I do,” he says, “And a healthy sense of ‘We don’t want to empower this person’ that comes out of the Police Department.”
Jones says another alleged incident, one that may put his family in harm’s way, is why he demanded his real name be withheld in this story. Tangen says Jones told him about a time when “police picked up a couple of Russian women brought into Seattle for sex trafficking and they reported seeing ‘Batman’ in the area . . . so there is also a possibility that organized crime may be under the impression that he is a threat as well.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Jones claims his house was broken into a few months after he started patrolling the streets, and worries that the break-in was retaliation for his crime-fighting ways. Like most of his other claims, however, this one is also unverifiable: Jones says he didn’t file a police report because nothing of value was stolen, so once again there’s no paper trail.
The Rain City Superheroes’ Facebook page warns aspiring crime-fighters looking to join Jones’ crew that his standards are high. A military background or martial arts expertise is mandatory (according to MixedMartialArts.com, Jones real-life counterpart has an undefeated amateur fighting record in Washington); community-service experience is a plus but not required; and you must also own a bulletproof vest that is at least capable of stopping small-arms fire. Jones himself is fond of his “Dragon Skin” model, which he says he purchased for $1,500 with a loan from his mom. All applicants, he says, must also pass a background check.
Not every member of Jones’ posse has been so carefully screened. His partners Ghost and Pitch Black, for instance, are friends of his from high school, both of whom say they served in the armed forces or have other defense training. But a review of Jones’ own criminal record begs the question: Does he measure up to his group’s high standards?
A search for the man who calls himself Phoenix Jones on the Washington Courts online database yields 22 results. The majority are for minor traffic violations, mostly speeding tickets. But he has also been cited six times for driving without a license, driving without insurance, and/or driving with his license suspended. He also was booked during a traffic stop in Snohomish County for “refusal to give information to or cooperate with an officer.”
According to a police report, on Sept. 3, 2008, Jones was pulled over on a scooter between Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace after his driving, “enraged several motorists.” The officer noted that Jones “was extremely nervous” and bragged that he was “a WA state cage fighter champion.” Jones’ license was suspended at the time, so he tried to conceal his identity by using a friend’s name. Unfortunately for Jones, his friend’s license also was suspended. Jones eventually fessed up and used his real name, but still refused to give the officer his home address.
The real-life Jones has been evicted twice (with three more “unlawful detainers,” as such cases are called, ending in dismissal) and had two judgments filed against him in civil court. Jones won’t discuss his poor driving record, saying it has no bearing on his character or ability to fight crime. He admits he’s had financial problems, but accurately asserts that he has always paid back his debts per the court’s orders.
On Nov. 30, a King County resident filed an unlawful harassment suit against Jones in Superior Court. According to court documents, the man told a judge that a week earlier, Jones “called me multiple times through an unknown number and made threats about my physical safety at 1 a.m.” He also stated that three days later, Jones “contacted me and threatened me with knowledge of my address and my girlfriend’s car data,” and that, “a mutually known person . . . told me that [Jones] wants to kill me.”
The court granted a restraining order, requiring that Jones pay court costs for the case and not go within 500 feet of the man or his residence. When Snohomish County sheriffs tried to serve Jones with the court order, they realized that the address he’d listed on court documents was his martial arts studio, and not his home.
Reached by phone, the man who filed the suit explains that he has spent the past decade as real-life superhero Mr. Raven Blade, purportedly doing both crime patrols and humanitarian work in the Seattle area. Raven Blade has himself received some media acclaim, appearing in a CNN story about citizen heroes. (Raven Blade, like Jones, requested that his real name be withheld for this story.) He says he was outraged by Jones’ boasts in an early news report so, using his Raven Blade identity, he posted a scathing letter to Jones on his blog.
Jones later contacted Raven Blade via Facebook message and wrote in all capital letters, “I KNOW YOUR ADDRESS AND CAR, PLEASE LETS KEEP THIS CIVIL LEAVE ME ALONE.” A few days later, Raven Blade alleges, he saw Jones drive past his house and point at him with his thumb and forefinger, “like if you’re a kid playing cops and robbers and trying to shoot somebody.” That’s when Raven Blade says he decided to file for a protection order.
Asked about the restraining order and Raven Blade’s statements, Jones initially denies having any knowledge of the situation.
“I have a legal team that handles most anything,” he says, “So if anyone filed a restraining order against Phoenix Jones, if they filed it against me, my legal team handles it and I don’t know anything about it.”
A few moments later, however, Jones backtracks and says that the “mutual friend” Raven Blade referenced in the court documents eventually retracted his statements about the death threat. Neither Jones nor Raven Blade would disclose the identity of their “mutual friend,” except to say that he too is a real-life superhero.
Jones also claims that Raven Blade suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. “I think that has a lot to do with the way he perceives me,” says Jones. “I don’t hold any grudge against him, and there’s an open communication line if he ever comes out and wants to work with me.”
Raven Blade, in turn, vehemently denies that he has Asperger’s and says there’s no way he’d ever go out on patrol with Jones.
“He’s trying to slander me,” he says. “It’s a classic tactic, you don’t like somebody so you try and make them look bad . . . He is not a superhero by any stretch of the imagination. He is, however, a very good marketer and a very good poser.”
Back in Belltown on the soggy Friday night, “crack hour” has arrived.
Standing on the corner of Second Avenue and Bell Street around 2:45 a.m., Jones and his crew are patrolling an area that’s obviously a low priority for Seattle Police—there’s not a uniformed officer, bike cop, or police cruiser in sight, and there won’t be for the rest of the night. Meanwhile, haggard addicts aggressively panhandle the few pedestrians brave or foolish enough to still be out and about. Unsavory characters stand on opposite sides of the intersection, peddling plastic baggie-packaged products as if they were legal.
Jones says he can’t confront the dealers unless he has probable cause. Accosting every group suspiciously standing on a public sidewalk would be considered harassment under Washington state law, he says, so a fight must break out in order to intervene. If they solicit him, or if he can pin down the precise type and quantity of drugs being exchanged, he will phone in a report to police. But until then, his strategy is to stand near a group and hope that his presence will intimidate them into shutting down their operation.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work out that way. “Man, you can’t arrest people,” says a young black man idling on a BMX bike. “I talked to the police about you.”
What makes the dealers a little uncomfortable, though, are the cameramen. “Yo, they snappin’ pictures!” shouts one of the men before slinking down the block to another corner. Some people remain, including a junkie nodding off in the middle of Second Avenue. Doubled over and on the verge of collapsing face-first into the pavement, the man somehow retains just enough balance to stay upright. Jones and his crew stare at the grim scene for a few minutes, trying to determine the proper course of action. Would it legally be considered harassment if they picked him up and moved him out of the street? Or should they wait until a car is coming so they’ll have a reason for rescuing him?
“This is ridiculous,” says Ghost, finally, before approaching the man along with Pitch Black, gently taking him by the arm, and guiding him to the curb.
With no obvious trouble brewing, a photographer asks Jones if he’d mind taking a break to do a photo shoot in a nearby alley. Jones obliges and spends the next 15 minutes posing. But just a few moments after leaving the alley, a man approaches asking for help. He has tattoos on his face and the backs of his hands, and says his street name is Poe. Pointing to a raspberry-colored welt on his face, Poe explains how he just got punched by one of the drug dealers. He wants Jones to track down the guy who hit him.
“When did this happen?” asks Jones.
“Soon as y’all left,” says Poe.
The irony of the superhero missing out on the only real skirmish of the evening to pose for pictures is not lost on Jones, but he tries to make the best of the situation.
“We have handcuffs,” he says. “We can citizens-arrest the guy, but when the police come you have to put your name down.”
“Nah,” says Poe. “I’d have the whole ‘hood after me if I did that.”
After getting a description of the alleged attacker, Jones heads back to the corner where the fight occurred. His plan, he says, is to wield “the Phoenix Cam” — a silver Flip pocket camcorder—and confront the assailant, provoking another altercation.
“I’m going to have to take a hit for the team,” he says. “I’ll get the guy to punch me in the face and we can press assault charges.”
“Are you aware of the concept of blocking?” asks Ghost.
“Yeah,” says Jones. “But then it’s not assault, it’s only attempted assault.”
Alas, by the time the superheroes return to the scene of the attack, the corner is empty. Jones and his crew circle the block a few more times, then decide to call it a night.
“I like that I’m not going to get punched in the face,” says Jones. “But I’m disappointed we didn’t get to take someone down.”
Still, by his standards the night is a resounding success.
“Sure other superheroes don’t like me,” he says. “Why? Because they suck at their jobs . . . Tonight we literally didn’t stop any crime. But we did definitely talk to some drug dealers, we picked up a girl who fell and hit her face on the ground, and we talked to a bunch of different people in Seattle who may now report crime because they talked to us. That’s still 100 times better than every other superhero.”
The (Alleged) Adventures of Phoenix Jones: The Police Reports
The (Alleged) Adventures of Phoenix Jones: The 911 Calls
The (Alleged) Adventures of Phoenix Jones: The Movie