Jason “Mayhem” Miller’s reputation rested easy in 2012. He captured Internet attention around the globe as a mixed martial arts (MMA) superstar, MTV show host and willing subject for provocative photographs. But the last four years have brought Miller a flood of negative publicity stemming from allegations of domestic violence, resisting arrest, vandalism, assaults and DUI. There’s no denying the stories are sensational enough to grab TMZ’s attention, prompt local prosecutors to hail him “a danger to the community” and cause the Orange County Register to, without attribution, call him “notorious” in the first sentence of a news article.
In reaction to the hype, an outraged Register reader commented, “Is there a judge who is strong enough to put him away?” Another wrote, “Sentence him on some of his pending felonies.” A third observed, “Is it only in OC that we play these games with people like this?”
Given such angry fervor, you might guess Miller’s rap sheet is loaded with proven victims and guilty verdicts. It isn’t. While he’s been convicted in the court of public opinion, the government has yet to win any of five pending cases against him.
“I understand human nature,” Miller told the Weekly just 13 hours after a five-day stint in the Orange County Jail for a vandalism arrest that has so far cost him $200,000 in bail to win his freedom on March 20. “If you read the newspapers, you probably think I’m just an idiot and that I’m some kind of evil person because all you get is this one-sided story from the cops.”
There’s little doubt a straight-laced prosecutor would recoil in fear at the sight of Miller, who is unquestionably rebellious. During our meeting, he sported a pink Mohawk, khaki shorts, a lime-green T-shirt, black fingernail polish, un-matching George H.W. Bush-style striped socks, a thick gold neck chain and jumbo-sized Air Jordans.
His tender side is definitely there, but Miller can instantaneously produce menacing facial expressions or howl as if he’s a state mental-hospital patient. Perhaps most intensely, his aura screams of a rare, self-made man who is genuinely fearless. He is the antithesis of a politically correct conformist, which, so far, hasn’t been banned by the ever-swelling California Penal Code.
If public opinion presently dictates he’s an airhead, a casual conversation quickly undermines the assumption. He speaks coherently, laughs easily—especially at himself—and tackles questions without pausing to ponder calculated answers. His biggest concern is being falsely labeled a “wife beater.”
In August 2013, Miller’s girlfriend, a gym enthusiast herself, told authorities he assaulted her. He says she threatened him and he merely took defensive steps to disarm her, claiming, “I had to wrestle a knife out of this woman’s hand.”
Cameron Talley, Miller’s defense lawyer and, until recently, a high-ranking Orange County prosecutor, doesn’t accept the woman’s story. Talley has predicted a courthouse victory, noting the ex-girlfriend waited 10 days to complain—and did so only after his client refused to rekindle their relationship.
Whatever the truth, Miller sees the episode as the beginning of a nightmare that has cops hounding him because he’s considered the region’s poster boy for domestic-violence offenders. He recalled that another MMA fighter, Jonathan Paul Koppenhaver (a.k.a. War Machine), is facing charges for beating his then-girlfriend, Christy Mack, a porn star. Mack suffered 18 fractured bones, a lacerated liver and two broken teeth in the 2014 attack in Las Vegas. (Miller made a memorable appearance during an HBO Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel segment on the case.)
“My ex is saying I did those same type of strikes to her that Christy Mack had done to her,” says a frustrated Miller, who lives in Mission Viejo.
In contrast to Mack’s wounds, Talley says, the purported victim’s injuries “were virtually nonexistent—a slight scratch over her eye and some bruises on her legs—but who knows when or how they happened?”
Miller believes the lack of trauma supports his innocence. “You have to understand I’m an expert at hurting people,” he says. “There’s nicer ways of saying it: I’m a martial artist. I’ve shattered men’s faces many times [during MMA matches]. I’ve knocked teeth out. I’ve seriously hurt people.”
An Orange County Superior Court judge tentatively scheduled an April 11 trial, but the three-year delay has, Miller says, already “totally wrecked” his career: “[No fight promoters] want to sign a guy to a contract [who] has domestic violence as a hot button issue.”
He also says the mess turned powerful individuals against him.
“If there’s a public perception that you’re a bad guy, it snowballs,” he explains. “Suddenly, you’re always fighting the cops off you. You’re getting stalked by the police. They’re waiting outside your house. I’m not kidding. . . . Every time they run into me, they find a reason to charge me with some kind of crime. . . . It’s ridiculous.”
He says it’s time “for a truce” with law enforcement, but only after they stop trampling his constitutional rights.
“I’m not afraid of the cops,” Miller declares. “My dad fought for the values of this country and my mom was also in the army. The Millers have been fighting for this country since before it was America. I know my history, and I know my rights. So, every time the cops come and harass me, I just tell them in no uncertain terms go fuck yourselves. And they don’t like that. I don’t like to live in a society where everybody comes up to me and says, ‘Oh, you should be thankful they didn’t shoot you.’ That’s fundamentally wrong. We shouldn’t be living in fear of the police.”
As evidence officials are targeting Miller, Talley points primarily to two incidents: First, a massive 2015 sheriff’s department SWAT raid on his client’s house for failing to appear at one pretrial hearing that included the detonation of his front door when he refused to exit. “All they needed to do was send him a simple letter telling him to appear back in court, and he would have,” says Talley. “Except for that one time when he was home sick, he’d always appeared. But no, they had to do this big production.”
Why didn’t he quickly surrender?
“They had sharpshooters on roofs, armored personnel vehicles, a helicopter and machine guns,” says the lean 6-foot-1, 215-pound Miller. “All I had was martial arts. I thought they were going to kill me. It was like I was Osama bin Laden.”
Second, Talley says, authorities overreacted after his client allegedly spray-painted anti-police graffiti on an exterior wall of a Lake Forest tattoo shop. The damage was minimal, but prosecutors demanded a $1 million bail, an amount almost always reserved for accused murderers, serial rapists and organized-crime bosses.
“What did they think he defaced?” asks Talley. “A Picasso?”
The Tustin-based lawyer—himself a colorful, poetry-quoting character with a boxing background—talked the bail down to $200,000.
Relieved to have his freedom, a healthy Miller is busy training for a May 21 fight in Milan, Italy, against 6-foot-6 Luke Barnatt, a 27-year-old Englishman. If his plan works, the event will relaunch his career. But the 35-year-old North Carolina native also has court on his mind.
“The justice system isn’t perfect, especially where there’s the element of celebrity,” he says. “But I want a fair trial. If I don’t get one, it’s a gross miscarriage of justice.”