When Mark Hughes became aware that his photo was being blasted across cyberspace in a police tweet as a person of interest in the Dallas shootings, the first thing he did was flag down a cop.
“This is one of our suspects,” the tweet from the Dallas Police Department read. “Please help us find him!” It was posted Thursday night following shootings in the city that left five police officers dead and nine people injured.
The image was retweeted thousands of times and broadcast on television before police acknowledged that Hughes — a demonstrator at the protest where the shooting occurred — was not a suspect, releasing him without charges.
The Twitter photo shows Hughes smiling, wearing a green camouflage T-shirt and walking with a crowd as part of the demonstration, which was called Thursday to protest the fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile earlier in week. In the photo, part of an assault rifle Hughes was carrying is visible. Licensed gun owners are allowed to carry weapons in Texas, and Hughes’ brother said the gun was not loaded.
Matching Hughes’ appearance in the photo with video footage taken during the actual shootings, observers on social media quickly pointed out that Hughes was walking around during the incident with his weapon at his side and could not have been involved in the shooting. Hughes can be seen in this video at 00:19.
Even though the department called Hughes a suspect on Twitter, official statements referred to him only as “a person of interest.”
At a news briefing broadcast live on Periscope, Police Chief David Brown circulated photos of Hughes.
Hughes was informed by a friend that his picture had been posted on the Internet.
“We received a phone call that my face was on there as a suspect, and immediately I flagged down an officer,” Hughes said in an interview with Dallas’ KTVT.
A video shows that Hughes handed over his gun to a police officer near the site of the shooting and identified a photo of himself.
Hughes said that his clothes were confiscated and he was interrogated at the police station for about 30 minutes.
“Police officers were lying, saying they had video of me shooting a gun, which is a lie, saying that they had witnesses saying I had shot a gun, which is a lie,” he said.
In another video taken at the police station, Cory Hughes, Hughes’ brother and one of the event organizers, tried to make sure people knew his brother was not involved in the shooting.
“Make sure you all let the world know: Mark Hughes had nothing to do with that,” Cory Hughes said.
Although Hughes was released, he said the Police Department has yet to apologize. The tweet it put out with his picture was not deleted and now has more than 40,000 retweets.
“At the end of the day, there was injustice going on. It was persecution on me, un-rightly,” Hughes told the media. “And I feel they need to do something about that.”
Cory Hughes told the news that he and his brother were peaceful protesters and initially tried to help police.
“When they started shooting, we went to the cops and asked what can we do? How can we help them?” he said.