The man who pointed a gun at protesters leaving a Breonna Taylor demonstration has been arrested and charged with aggravated assault and tampering with or fabricating evidence.
Paul Staples, 39, was booked into the Shelby County Jail Friday and is scheduled for his first court appearance Monday.
The incident that led to Staples’ arrest occurred Wednesday, after a grand jury refused to indict three white Louisville, Kentucky, police officers in the March shooting death of Breonna Taylor. To protest the jury decision, a small group of demonstrators led a protest in Downtown Memphis.
When the demonstration was over, some of the participants walked past 481 S. Main. That’s when a man — since identified as Staples — started yelling from an upstairs window at several people who were walking by. None of them were chanting or holding a bullhorn, organizer Lj Abraham said.
Staples shouted that they should get a job and stop protesting. Harsh words were exchanged, Abraham acknowledged, but nothing that would make Staples think his safety was in jeopardy, especially as he was on a second floor and they were walking in the street, which police had blocked.
Then, activists said, Staples said he’d come downstairs and a few minutes later, he made good on his word.
“It escalated when Paul Staples went outside of his residence and confronted the group,” the police complaint said. “Paul Staples pointed a handgun at the protesters in an effort to keep them away from his vehicle.”
A video and photos show a white man standing in the doorway of a South Main building, aiming the weapon at the demonstrators. Parked in front of 481 S. Main was a small SUV for Mitch Wright Plumbing Company. The same SUV was seen driving away from Staples’ address just minutes before demonstrators held a press conference near that address Thursday.
“I get death threats, but this is the first time I’ve actually had a gun pulled on me,” Abraham said Thursday.
Abraham and others present Wednesday complained that the Memphis Police Department officers posted nearby were reluctant to take a police report and when shown a photo of Staples standing in the doorway with his hand at his side, said that the black object in the man’s hand was a cell phone, not a gun.
MPD said Thursday that it was investigating the incident; a police report was in fact made on Wednesday.
When police later talked to Staples, he said he’d aimed a .22-caliber pellet pistol at the demonstrators. But when Staples went to the MPD precinct on North Main to give his statement on Friday, he brought a toy air soft pistol, according to the complaint.
Officers noticed it didn’t match the weapon shown in a photograph of the incident, and then Staples confessed — and handed over the 9 mm pistol he’d aimed at demonstrators.
“Paul Staples stated that he felt in fear and that’s why he pointed his 9mm pistol at protesters,” the police complaint said.
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