A Utah man is suing a former restaurant owner who he alleges “became enraged” and charged at him with a fire extinguisher to put out the cigarette he was smoking in a public plaza — an exchange caught on video that has since gone viral.
The lawsuit filed Monday in Salt Lake district court was largely expected, though it spells out for the first time some of what led up to the controversy and the issues that have continued since. And it requests damages be awarded to cover the medical problems that Jonathan Bird said he’s had as a result of the confrontation.
“He’s currently being treated by doctors,” said his attorney, Christian Burridge, on Monday night. “We’re still waiting for some results. But we’re going to thoroughly investigate whether there’s liability.”
In the filing, Bird said that he was volunteering for the Urban Arts Festival on Sept. 20. Early in the morning, he asked a local security guard where he could take a smoke break and he walked to the spot pointed out. He lit a cigarette outside a restaurant near the Gallivan Center.
The owner of the eatery, Alex Jamison, came out and asked him to move, Bird alleges. So he did. The lawsuit says that Bird “even offered Jamison a high-five to show that he meant no disrespect or desired to be confrontational.”
A few hours later, Bird returned to smoke again and said he stayed away from the restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City.
Still, he accuses Jamison of running outside and attacking him where he stood across the plaza.
A witness that Bird was with, Elaina Henderlite, pulled out her cellphone and began recording, according to the lawsuit. The video posted on Facebook shows Jamison asking Bird to put out his cigarette. When he keeps puffing, Jamison shoots a quick burst from a fire extinguisher.
It was less than 2 feet from Bird’s face, the filing alleges, and the pain was immediate. Bird said his eyes started burning. His mouth swelled, too, and his lungs prickled. He felt a jolt through most of his body, gasping to catch his breath. And even now, more than a month later, he said he’s having a hard time recovering.
Henderlite also says she breathed in the retardant. Both say they’ve had recurring headaches since. They call the dousing “outrageous and intolerable,” saying it was deliberate and meant to cause harm. Bird and Henderlite are suing for damages to cover health expenses.
A second part of the filing, though, also accuses Jamison of leaving the business after the controversy “in an apparent attempt to hinder a lawsuit and evade creditors.”
A few days after the attack and after the video spread online — reaching more than 130,000 views before it was taken down — Jamison announced in two Facebook posts that he was sorry and would be divesting from the three vegan businesses he co-owned: Monkeywrench, Boltcutter and Cultiva. All three of those are also named in the lawsuit, falling under the umbrella company Buds, LLC.
“Was my behavior on Friday the right way to handle the situation?” Jamison wrote in the posts. “Of course not. Am I sorry? Absolutely. Did I mean to cause that man harm or pain? Definitely not. Does he deserve compassion? I’d love to give it to him.”
But, Jamison noted, he’s “done groveling” and offered a defense. He said Bird should have moved 30 feet away to a designated smoking area to the south. Jamison added that he just wanted to protect his customers from secondhand smoke.
Almost immediately after, though, Jamison’s restaurant, Boltcutter, started receiving negative reviews online with some calling for a boycott.
He said he would step down so those he owned the restaurant with wouldn’t suffer any further consequences from his actions. Jamison could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. His co-owner was also named in the lawsuit.
The filing accuses Jamison of illegally transferring his business ownership to her. And it calls on the court for an injunction against divesting the assets, saying it is “fraudulent” and should be considered a civil conspiracy.
“Justice needs to be taken care of by the authorities and not individual vigilantes,” Burridge said. He added that with the litigation he would be providing all comments on behalf of Bird.
They’re suing for assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress (both intentional and negligent).
Meanwhile, the Salt Lake City Police Department has completed an investigation of the case and has sent it to the county prosecutor to determine if criminal charges could also be filed. That has yet to be determined but, if applicable, would likely be for misdemeanor assault.