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Felipe Fernandez-Armesto: Denies Claims Made by Cop Who Arrested Him for Jaywalking

A patently distraught Felipe Fernandez-Armesto told HNN today in a phone interview that the Atlanta policeman who arrested him at the annual convention of the American Historical Association for jaywalking has provided the media with a twisted version of events. He indicated he may sue to clear his good name.

On Tuesday, four days after the arrest, Officer Kevin Leonpacher told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the professor was no innocent in the affair that landed him in jail for eight hours."I told him, it's gonna be awful silly if I have to take you to jail for jaywalking," Leonpacher told the paper."I used an excessive amount of discretion."

Professor Fernandez-Armesto says the officer has defamed him. In a point-by-point rebuttal, he insisted firmly that he had not realized it was improper to cross the middle of the street and had watched his colleagues do so repeatedly without interference (in his native Great Britain, he noted, jaywalking is not an offense). He said it was not clear to him that the"young man" who called out to him to cross at the light was a policeman because the officer's badge and insignia were not visible. He said he is both morally and physically incapable of violence."I am a feeble physical speciman," he said. There was a major scuffle, but he"did not offer physical resistance."

Felip Fernandez-Armesto detained by Atlanta police for jaywalking Jan. 4, 2007. Picture by Jonathan Dresner.

While Leonpacher insists it was obvious he was a policeman it seems equally obvious that Professor Fernandez-Armersto did not realize that until the officer called for back-up and a group of policemen suddenly descended on him. Leonpacher's own police report quotes the professor as saying,"Well now I believe that you are the police."

Professor Fernandez-Armesto says he has been baffled that the police are trying to defend the arrest. The more they defend their conduct the more the media dwell on the story, which can't be good for Atlanta's image, he noted.

The story has received worldwide notice. As of Friday afternoon HNN's video interview with the professor was watched on YouTube more than 15,000 times.

In a letter to the mayor of Atlanta the AHA has warned that"In light of this experience, it would only be after the Association has received assurances from the appropriate municipal authorities that the problem has been addressed that we could again consider Atlanta as a future site for the AHA's annual meeting."

Fernandez-Armesto was arrested a week ago Thursday, the first day of the convention and charged with Failure to Obey a Police Officer and Physical Obstruction of Police. After sitting eight hours in jail he was released on bond. The next day charges were dismissed after the prosecutor heard the professor's side of the story.

Fernandez-Armesto is a former Oxford don. He currently holds two academic positions. He is a visiting professor at the University of London, St. Mary's College, and Prince of Asturias Professor at Tufts. He is the sole author of nineteen books. At the AHA Prentice Hall sponsored a reception to celebrate his textbook, The World: A History, which came out in paperback in August. Posters at the convention invited people to"stop by and meet" him. He is no longer in need of attention. He has been getting more attention, he told HNN, than he ever anticipated or wanted.

He said he has received hundreds of emails, most supportive. He is now busy answering them instead, he said rather plaintively, of preparing his syllabus for the coming year.

Click here to listen to HNN's audio interview with Fernandez-Armesto.