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Monday, July 30, 2018

Guard Arrested for Macing Gas Mart Protesters Was Fired — and His Truck Destroyed

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2018 at 9:46 AM

click to enlarge Anthony Edwards sprays mace toward protesters on July 25. - SCREENSHOT VIA REAL STL NEWS

Last week, protesters brought business to a standstill at Gas Mart (5745 Delmar Boulevard). Demonstrators blocked the entrance to the gas station just east of the Loop, voicing complaints about a July 24 incident in which two clerks were caught on video kicking a woman to the ground. Protesters said it wasn't a one-off event, but represented a longstanding pattern of mistreatment from store employees to the surrounding neighbors.

Gas Mart eventually released an apology for the incident. Those clerks, Jehad Motan, 32, and Ahmed Qandeel, 19, were arrested and charged with misdemeanors the next day — but on the night of July 25, protesters returned. That night, the demonstrators didn't face a line of cops, but a 25-year-old security guard named Anthony Edwards.



By the end of the night, Edwards would find himself in a similar position as the two clerks whose actions started the dispute: He was featured in a widely-shared video, fired from his job and facing a misdemeanor charge for assault in the fourth degree.

But he says he did nothing wrong — and that he had no choice but defend the store he was being paid to guard.

"I spent fourteen hours in jail for something I was trained to do, you know," Edwards tells Riverfront Times. "It was something I thought was an immediate threat."

That threat, he claims, is the reason he sprayed mace multiple times at the crowd of protesters, hitting several people. He admits that some of those people were not posing any threat, immediate or otherwise. But he says he was both trying to stop people from coming into the store and responding to objects being hurled at the store — and himself.


In a video clip uploaded by Real Stl News, which livestreamed much of the night's protests, the security guard can be seen with his back against the gas station's front door, holding it open as an officer and another man enter. On the video, someone's hand can be seen grabbing the door, and possibly attempting to hold it open. Edwards turns and raises the blue canister in his right hand.

"I gave him one quick burst of OC spray directly in his face, and then pulled the door closed," Edwards recalls. The hand holding the door belonged to a particular protester, a man whom Edwards claims had previously tried to enter the store "to yell at the employees."

But pepper spray is not a weapon of precision. The group of demonstrators — which up until this point had occupied the parking lot and blocked the store's entrance — shouted angrily at the security guard behind the glass. Through a bullhorn, one man yelled, "Did you really just mace the crowd?"

On the video, a uniformed man and another man Edwards says is a plainclothes police officer exit the store to calm the crowd. After about a minute, Edwards, still holding the can of pepper spray, gestures toward the officers, beckoning them back inside. As Edwards closes the door, a gallon jug apparently hurled at him bounces off the glass.

click to enlarge Security guard Tony Edwards. - VIA FACEBOOK
  • VIA FACEBOOK
  • Security guard Tony Edwards.
"I wanted to make sure that all the officers had enough support out there while I maintained the space at the door," Edwards says now.

At this point in the video, a woman approaches the door holding a paper sign.

"I reopened up the door to see what she wanted," Edwards continues, "and next thing you now here comes a gallon jug, filled with some form of liquid, and hits me upside my head."

On the video, the next events take place in virtually the same instant: Edwards opens the door and gestures at the woman with the can of pepper spray, and then sprays at her, just as the jug comes flying in, striking Williams directly in the head. Williams turns and unleashes a second stream of pepper spray, this in a wide arc, scattering the crowd.

"It was a half-circle burst that went out," Edwards says. The spray, he concedes, struck everyone in the area, "whether you were the person threw it or not."

He adds, "I’m pretty sure there were some innocent people that got sprayed."

See also: Gas Mart Workers Charged With Assault After Kicking Woman

To Edwards, his actions were part of doing his job. He says that he'd first gotten a call from the Gas Mart owner not long after the video of the clerks kicking a woman brought protesters to the scene. The first protests were calm, he says.

By the next day, however, he says the store owner called him again, "begging" him to return. According to Edwards, the owner claimed that the protesters were "holding them hostage" inside the store.

But after Edwards sprayed the crowd with mace, things only got worse. Someone called 911, and Edwards was eventually taken through a side door and transported to a police substation. There, he learned that investigators had seen video taken by protesters — and thought he was in the wrong.

"They charged me, locked me up, and I spent fourteen hours in jail before I was was released," Edwards says.

In the mean time, the gas station's front door was broken into. A cellphone video shared by Fox-2 shows glass and merchandise scattered across the floor. Fox2 also reported that money and other items were taken from the store.

That wasn't the only damage. While Edwards was being questioned, he says an app on his phone began sounding an alarm — an alarm indicating that his truck, which he'd left parked on Delmar, was being tampered with. By the time police investigated, he says, the vehicle was already "engulfed in flames."

On Friday, Edwards retrieved his truck from a tow lot. The windshield had been smashed, and the interior appeared melted by the heat. Police said the car had been set on fire with an accelerant.

click to enlarge Edwards' burned truck. - COURTESY OF ANTHONY EDWARDS
  • COURTESY OF ANTHONY EDWARDS
  • Edwards' burned truck.
That wasn't all. After his release from the downtown justice center, Edwards says he got a call from his employer. He was informed that his employment was terminated.

In the days since the incident, Edwards says he's received multiple threats over Facebook, and that people are "slandering my character."

He's angry at the fact that he's been charged for doing something that, in his mind, was what he was trained to do. He claims that he spoke to a sergeant before leaving the gas station, and that the cop explained that the protesters "are pretty upset with you" and that "we have to give them results."

Those results, Edwards now claims, have left him without a job or car. He notes that he is licensed and trained as a security officer, and that police officers with the same training have committed similar acts in the past — without the same repercussions.

"When the police were out there in riot gear, they had shields while the protesters were throwing water bottles and bricks at them. They didn't care about who they maced. They maced the whole crowd," he says. "What's the difference between that and me macing somebody that posed a threat to coming on the inside of the building? I mean, I don't understand."

The people who got maced, however, have little empathy for Edwards. Sylvester Sanders was one of three reporters for Real Stl News who were covering the protest on July 24. All three were hit with mace. It is Sanders' voice you hear on the video, gasping and choking in the cloud of pepper spray. Sanders says his eyes burned for days.

According to Sanders, Edwards arrived at gas station already carrying the can of mace, shaking it as he walked. The reporter blames Edwards for escalating the situation.

Sanders also notes that after Edwards left the scene, the main group of protesters moved across the street. It wasn't until they heard a boom that Sanders and others rushed over to see the truck in flames.

"We really don't know who set it on fire," Sanders says.

Overall, Sanders adds, the media coverage of the fire and damage to the store was unfairly framed as resulting from the demonstration — in reality, the reporter says, the main crowd of protesters nothing to do with it.

"I was there from 7 p.m. until midnight. The protesters did not break anything, they did not set anything on fire or anything of that nature," says Sanders.

Edwards, he says, crossed a line. And he believes the now-fired security guard has only himself to blame.

"It was a peaceful protest, until he came walking in," Sanders maintains. "All he had to do was go in the store. No one was vandalizing anything. If he would have just gone in the store, he could have called it a day."

Editor's note: A previous version of this story stated that a sheriff's deputy was on the scene. The sheriff's office says that is incorrect, and we have updated the story accordingly. We regret the error.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com

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