Man cited after refusing to leave scene of blaze sparked by fireworks

Posted at 10:25 PM, Jul 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-12 00:40:41-04

SANTAQUIN, Utah -- Fourth of July fireworks sparked more than a dazzling light show in Santaquin.

Tempers flared and handcuffs came out in one neighborhood. Now, a Santaquin man has taken to social media, outraged police handcuffed him while he was trying to put out a grass fire burning near his home. However, police officials said there’s more to the story.

When a field fire ignited about 200 feet from Jason Thornton's home, he and his neighbors started stringing hoses together and spraying the fire to keep it from spreading. A neighbor who happens to be a firefighter believes one of his fireworks went astray and sparked some cheat grass.

"I'd say [the fire] was at least 15 feet in the air," said James Thornton.

But when a Santaquin police officers told the neighbors to back away, police said Thornton refused to  leave the area.

"Basically I told him to f-off,” Thornton said.  “I didn't know who it was. I'm like this is crazy, I'm not leaving, the fire department wasn't here. He came around and said, 'Well you're under arrest.' He got his handcuffs out, put my arms behind my back and walked me up to the road here and put me in the back of his police car."

Thornton wasn’t booked into jail but was detained and cited for disorderly conduct and obstructing justice. He was released on scene.

"I think it was more of a heat of the moment type thing, if somebody's telling you not to protect your home what are you gonna do?," said neighbor Sheri Marion.

Thornton posted a video on Facebook, saying "So if I'm obstructing justice by protecting my home .. that is crazy."

The video sparked angry comments toward the Santaquin Police Department.

"Excessive force, but it was portrayed in a different light than what really happened," said Santaquin Police Chief Rodney Hurst.

The chief said the fire was burning away from homes and wasn’t a threat, and according to another neighbor, "well the fire department was pretty close to being here, so I think the officer knew what he was doing and we had time before it threatened anything else so I think the officer was justified."

Police insist Thornton wasn’t arrested for spraying the fire.

"He was cited for his behavior, his refusal to obey a lawful command from the officer,” Chief Hurst said.

Gene Kennedy: "What about your other neighbors, were they arrested?"
Jason Thornton: "No."
Gene Kennedy: "Why you and not them?"
Jason Thornton:  "Probably because of what I said."
Gene Kennedy: "Because you used the f-word with an officer?"
Jason Thornton: "Yeah, probably, but that's freedom of speech. It was an intense moment."

Thornton admits he hasn't filed a formal complaint against police a week after the arrest. Cops wish he should have done that first instead of turning to Facebook. Thornton has not been charged but if so, he’s looking at two misdemeanors and may have to fight hundreds of dollars in fines in city court.