Mayor voices ‘serious concerns’ about protest arrest tactics

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh’s mayor says he has “serious concerns” about the tactics used in the arrest of a protester during a march Saturday that drew condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union and others.

Pittsburgh Public Safety officials said they were trying to protect the public when plainclothes officers arrested a protester at about 5 p.m. Saturday in the city and placed the person in an unmarked, white van.

Public Safety officials said the person had repeatedly refused to work with police and was blocking intersections needed for people to get to hospitals and for students moving into the University of Pittsburgh. The march of about 150 people started about an hour and 45 minutes before the arrest, they said.

Commander Ed Trapp of the Special Deployment Division said the man was stepping in front of cars and directing vehicles “with no situational awareness” and feared he would direct cars into other vehicles or pedestrians. Trapp said officials decided on a “low-visibility” arrest to avoid gathering a crowd and have the situation escalate.

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“The idea was a surgical maneuver to remove the person that was the problem and allow the main protest march to continue, which it in fact did,” he said.

Mayor Bill Peduto said he had “serious concerns” about the tactics used and would work with public safety leaders on whether and when such things should be done.

“… That imagery, what people saw, scared them because they don’t believe that’s part of what Pittsburgh is,” Peduto said. “They saw officers getting somebody and throwing them into a van, and they ask ‘Why?’ and they’re right to ask ‘Why?”

Public safety officials said they were committed to assuring the rights of people to express their opinion, but the protests had become increasingly unsafe in recent weeks and protest organizers had refused to cooperate with police on their planned routes and intentions.

Peduto earlier said in a Twitter post that constitutional rights “have restrictions,” and while the right to assemble was guaranteed, “the right to shut down public streets is a privilege … sanctioned by laws and codes” on which the city worked with the ACLU & a citizen review board.

Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, alleged based on eyewitness accounts that the law enforcement officers “tricked a protest leader to approach them and then whisked him away.” He said the group “has never suggested that the snatch-and-stash arrest of a peaceful demonstrator is ever acceptable.”

Police said the 25-year-old man arrested was being charged with failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways and other public passages but was not being charged with risking a catastrophe, as they had said earlier.

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