Pittsburgh protesters sue police, allege excessive force

A group of protesters is suing Pittsburgh city and police officials, saying officers used unnecessary, excessive force to disperse a crowd protesting against police brutality and officials lied about the protesters’ behavior to justify that response.

The lawsuit filed Monday alleges protesters’ constitutional rights were violated when police dispersed a crowd of about 150 people protesting after the Minneapolis death of George Floyd, at one point allegedly firing blindly into a cloud of smoke and tear gas with beanbags and other projectiles. They allege police acted on a false narrative. Some of the protesters say law enforcement officers boxed them in and prevented many from being able to follow an order to disperse, arresting people who were trying to leave and even lobbing tear gas canisters and smoke at people nearly a half-mile away from the protest trying to get to their cars.

“The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (“PBP“) responded by escalating a peaceful protest into a scene of pandemonium, panic, violence and bloodshed,” the attorneys wrote in the lawsuit filed in federal court. “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.”

The smaller demonstration had splintered off from an hours-long earlier protest that attracted around a thousand people on the afternoon of June 1. Police officials said after the protest that nine officers and two protesters received medical attention for injuries.

Police have said an officer was threatened, and that bricks, water bottles and other projectiles were thrown at officers before they used force to disperse the splintered crowd. They’ve denied they used tear gas when breaking up the protest or that they used rubber bullets, instead saying they used sponge rounds and bean bags.

Protesters say that narrative isn’t true.

“I was disheartened when I turned on the news and saw a mayor that I supported… saying none of the stuff that I just saw happen, happened,” said Donovan Hayden, one of the plaintiffs. “Many of the things I heard them say to justify firing at us, I didn’t see those things happen. I didn’t see a single brick. These nine officers who got hurt, I don’t know where they came from.”

Hayden also said the peaceful protesters who shouted “this is not a riot” had stopped a group of people who were attempting to vandalize a Black-owned business. Another group talked down someone harassing a television news crew.


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