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Activists demand police reform after protester’s arrest by plainclothes Pittsburgh officers

PITTSBURGH — Activists are calling for police accountability and reform following the weekend arrest of a protester by plainclothes Pittsburgh police officers in an unmarked vehicle. Police said they were clearly identifiable and the man was not complying. Matthew Cartier said on social media that was not the case.

Cartier, 25, was arrested Saturday during the protest that made its way into Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood after starting in Shadyside.

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Activists from the nonprofit Black, Young & Educated held a news conference Monday morning about the arrest, calling out Pittsburgh police and Mayor Bill Peduto. The group claimed the support city leaders say they have for the protesters is not being backed up by their actions.

Peduto released the following statement Monday afternoon:

“It is hard to find the words for how livid I was after seeing the online videos of the disturbing arrest at Saturday’s protest. I have taken the time to review all the video and information that has been made available to me. As Mayor, I will never tolerate these tactics being used at peaceful protests again.”

“We want change. We want justice. We want peace. We want accountability for the crimes committed by the Bureau of Police of Pittsburgh,” A.D. Bagheera said.

MORE DETAILS: Mayor Peduto has ‘serious concerns’ with police tactics during protester’s arrest

According to a criminal complaint, officers saw Cartier “break from the demonstrators and run ahead to block street intersections alone, startling motorists with his sudden actions in several intersections.”

Authorities said the plainclothes officers who arrested Cartier “identified themselves and were clearly identifiable as officers.” Police said the officers were wearing civilian clothes but had their police badges and identified themselves as officers. They were also driving an unmarked vehicle but it had municipal government license plates. Officers said during a Sunday news conference that Cartier repeatedly refused to get out of the road “not on one occasion, but on several occasions, saying he does not listen to police.” Cartier was warned earlier by a Motorcycle Unit officer to stop stepping in front of traffic. Police said this was a “low visibility arrest” because they did not want to attract a crowd or incite things further.

Cartier told his side of the story via a thread on Twitter. He said he “approached the (unmarked) van to provide directions” and was grabbed by plainclothes officers.

Cartier is facing charges of failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways and other public passages after refusing to comply when police told him to get out of the road.

Channel 11 reached out to Cartier and his attorney, Lisa Middleman, for an interview on camera. Middleman spoke to Channel 11 Monday afternoon.

Middleman had campaigned against Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zapala in 2019 but was not successful in her bid to unseat him.

Zappala released the following statement Monday afternoon.

“In 2005, I requested that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court change the rules of criminal procedure to allow for more low level offenses to proceed by summons, the equivalent of being written a traffic citation, rather than by arrest. On Saturday, Pittsburgh Police, directed by the Public Safety Director and the Mayor, chose to proceed by arrest and criminal complaint on charges that should have been handled via summons.

While I appreciate the right to free speech and peaceful protest as afforded by the constitution, I also appreciate the inconvenience and potential danger created by blocking access to roadways, intersections and possibly hospital entrances. Pending the review of body worn camera footage which my office obtained earlier today, this matter appears to be a summary offense at best and should be handled by the Pittsburgh Police Department in a summary hearing.”

Upon seeing the video of the arrest, the Black Political Empowerment Project founder Tim Stevens said things have to change.

“I’m going to ask the procedure that happened on Saturday never happen again in Pittsburgh,” he said.

Stevens may actually have the power to change it though. He is one of the 17 members of Pittsburgh’s Police Reform Task Force.

“We cannot as a task force, while we’re working on policies to prevent these incidents, not address an incident that just happened on Saturday,” he said.

The Police Community Task Force on Police Reform issued the following statement Monday evening:

“The Pittsburgh Community Task Force on Police Reform strongly condemns the actions of a non-uniformed group of Pittsburgh police officers at the corner of Forbes Ave. and S. Bouquet St. on August 15.  We have heard from countless members of our community, including law enforcement officers and those exercising their First Amendment rights to protest, who are desperate for these policing tactics to change, and to change now.  As we continue our work as a Task Force, we pledge to address such police tactics in our final report, and we call on Mayor Peduto, Public Safety Director Hissrich, and Chief Schubert to immediately address this incident and provide full transparency to the community.  We also call on the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and protest leaders to work together to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”