|DATE FILED||June 29, 2020|
|KEY ISSUES||State Violence, Police Brutality, Protesters, Excessive Force|
|CO-COUNSEL||O’Brien Law and Elzer Law Firm, LLC|
Protesters File Class Action Lawsuit Against Pittsburgh Police and City Officials for Police Attacks on East Liberty
On June 1, 2020, a peaceful protest in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh against nationwide police violence turned into a yet another demonstration of excessive force by the police. Protesters who participated in this protest have filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (PBP) officials, Mayor Bill Peduto, and the City of Pittsburgh after police unleashed violence on peaceful demonstrators, then rounded up and arrested nearly two dozen people who committed no crimes. The protesters are represented by attorneys from O’Brien Law, Abolitionist Law Center, and Elzer Law Firm, LLC.
Named Plaintiffs include a 13-year-old boy, his mother, and her fiancé, who attended the protest to learn about the First Amendment, but instead were met with tear gas and violence; a dance instructor who was arrested outside his apartment while he was on his way home; a local non-profit worker who was gassed and chased at gunpoint; an international peace observer who spent the night in jail after being tear gassed and arrested while trying to walk to their car; and a man who was shot in the back by four rubber bullets as he tried to leave the protest.
On June 1, the PBP escalated a peaceful protest into a scene of pandemonium, panic, violence and bloodshed. The PBP deployed hundreds of officers to counter approximately 150 protesters. As the assembled protesters held their hands in the air and chanted, “This is not a riot,” and “Hands up – Don’t shoot,” PBP ordered its officers to attack them with explosives, chemical agents and ammunition which is known to seriously wound and sometimes kill its targets. PBP officers drove ambulances past injured protesters without stopping. After ordering peaceful protesters to leave the area, PBP officers blocked their escape with chemical gas, riot police and mounted patrols. The PBP ordered tactical officers dressed in paramilitary garb to patrol a residential neighborhood in armored vehicles and arbitrarily throw canisters of chemical gas at anyone they encountered. The PBP arrested twenty-two protestors for failing to disperse, subjecting them to confinement in the midst of a global COVID-19 pandemic. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office withdrew the charges for every person arrested due to a lack of sufficient evidence or allegations to support the criminal charges.
Immediately following the PBP’s overwhelming and unjustified use of force in East Liberty, Mayor Peduto, Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich and Chief of Police Scott Schubert held a press conference at which they disseminated flagrant lies to conceal and/or justify the PBP’s use of force against peaceful protesters. These officials accused protesters of hurling rocks and “volleys of bricks” at PBP officers, and vehemently denied using chemical agents. Numerous videos statements were patently false.
MEET THE PROTESTERS-PLAINTIFFS
“In Pittsburgh and across the country, police officers’ use of chemical weapons such as tear gas and projectile munitions such as rubber bullets, beanbag rounds, and sponge grenades against protesters has resulted in serious and debilitating injuries. Moreover, the routine and indiscriminate use of these tactics deters would-be protesters from exercising their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition the government,” said the attorneys representing the Protesters.
The lawsuit seeks an order preventing the City of Pittsburgh from declaring peaceful protests unlawful and from using chemical agents and projectiles against peaceful protesters. The lawsuit also seeks money damages for protesters whose rights were violated.
The suit was filed the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania by Attorneys Margaret Coleman of O’Brien Law, Quinn Cozzens of Abolitionist Law Center, and Christine T. Elzer of Elzer Law Firm, LLC.
 Federal courts have issued similar injunctions against police departments in several cities, including Denver, Seattle, and Oakland
“City Officials Sued In Federal Court Over June 1 East Liberty Protest” by Chris Potter for 90.5 WESA (NPR) (06/29/2020)
“‘Nowhere to run to’: Lawsuit filed against Mayor Peduto, Pittsburgh police in wake of East Liberty protest” by Megan Guza for The Pittsburgh Tribune (06/29/2020)
“Peduto, City Of Pittsburgh Sued For Violating Protesters’ First Amendment Rights During June Demonstration In East Liberty” by Charlie Deitch for The Pittsburgh Current (06/29/2020)
“Pittsburgh protesters sue police, allege excessive force” by Claudia Lauer for The Associated Press (06/29/2020)