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Plainclothes police officers use unmarked vehicle to arrest man during Pittsburgh protest

PITTSBURGH — A protest that started in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood Saturday was mostly peaceful, but one man was arrested by plainclothes police officers.

According to Pittsburgh Public Safety, the protest started around 3:15 p.m. on Walnut Street in Shadyside with about 150 people. They marched down Fifth Avenue and stopped at the intersection of Forbes and Oakland avenues around 4:55 p.m.

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Around that time, officials said one protester -- identified as Matthew Cartier -- was arrested and placed in an unmarked vehicle. Authorities said the officers “identified themselves and were clearly identifiable as officers.”

Cartier, 25, is facing charges of failure to disperse, disorderly conduct and obstructing highways and other public passages.

According to a police 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.”

Investigators said officers told him “at least two times” to stop doing that, so Cartier moved out of the intersections. Around 4:10 p.m., police said Cartier started blocking the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Dithridge Street, which is a busy intersection near the University of Pittsburgh campus.

According to the criminal complaint, a different officer told Cartier to leave the intersection, but he refused. The officer allegedly told Cartier he was denying access for the UPMC hospitals to patients and ambulances -- to which Cartier replied: “Show us the ambulance, buddy.”

A few minutes later, around 4:30 p.m., police said they asked Cartier to leave the intersection, and he again refused. At that point, investigators said Cartier was taken into custody by plainclothes officers.

Cartier’s attorney, Lisa Middleman took to twitter about her client’s arrest.

Meanwhile, 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.

Public Safety said no other incidents were reported, and the protest was peaceful following the arrest. Protesters started to disperse around 6:40 p.m. after returning to the starting point on Walnut Street.

In a press conference Sunday afternoon, Mayor Bill Peduto said he is “concerned” about the tactics used by police during the arrest. He said on Twitter that he ordered police officials to “fully examine operations taken” by the officers involved.

Public Safety officials said during the press conference that they have been having cooperation issues with protesters and organizers over the past few weeks -- and Saturday’s incident was a prime example of that.

“We decided to go with a low visibility arrest,” one of the incident commanders said. “It also gave us the ability to call the arrest off.”

Bill Peduto released a statement on twitter following the incident, saying:

“Just a quick reminder of Constitutional rights. They have restrictions. The right to assemble is a guaranteed right, the right to shut down public streets, is a privilege. That privilege is sanctioned by laws and codes. In Pittsburgh, we worked w ACLU & CPRB to create our codes.”

“I learned, once, of trying to provide information within a few hours, in order to present transparency. Unfortunately, that is a failed effort. This was an arrest made by Pittsburgh Police in a transit unit. I will wait until I receive all evidence, before making any decisions.”

“We are aware of the arrest that was made around 500PM today. I have ordered Chief Schubert & Director Hissrich to fully examine operations taken by Pittsburgh Police and by the individual arrested. Once we have video & transcripts, we will address our citizens concerns on Sunday.”

The ACLU of Pennsylvania released the entire following statement on its website:

“On Saturday, concerned residents of Pittsburgh continued local protests in support of Black lives and against police brutality and marched through the city’s Oakland neighborhood. According to witnesses and press reports, when the protesters arrived near the University of Pittsburgh campus, one person - a marshal, who is responsible for directing the march and keeping people safe - interacted with a person in an unmarked vehicle, and, when the marshal approached the vehicle, several armed men grabbed the marshal and threw him into the vehicle.

Only later did protesters learn that the marshal had been arrested for blocking a roadway and several other offenses.

In response, late Saturday night, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted, “The right to assemble is a guaranteed right, the right to shut down public streets, is a privilege. That privilege is sanctioned by laws and codes. In Pittsburgh, we worked w ACLU & CPRB to create our codes.”

The ACLU of Pennsylvania responded to Mayor Peduto’s tweet in a statement released today. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“Once again, police in Pittsburgh have shown why people are in the streets protesting for Black lives and against police brutality. Even when their behavior has been exposed for all to see, Pittsburgh police continue to abuse the people they are meant to serve.”

The following can be attributed to Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“Mayor Peduto is correct that the ACLU of Pennsylvania consulted with the city in drafting guidelines for how to handle protests, specifically unpermitted protests that block roadways. However, based on eyewitness accounts, the arresting officers were in clear violation of their own guidelines. According to those who were there, the law enforcement officers involved made no effort to work with protest leaders to clear the area and gave no clear dispersal order. Instead, they tricked a protest leader to approach them and then whisked him away. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has never suggested that the snatch-and-stash arrest of a peaceful demonstrator is ever acceptable.

“Mayor Peduto and Chief Schubert owe the people of this city a full accounting of what happened in Oakland yesterday. If the officers involved failed to follow the city’s own guidelines for managing protests, those officers must be held accountable.”

The Black Political Empowerment Project sent a letter to Mayor Peduto, Public Safety Director Hissrich and Pittsburgh Police Chief Schubert saying:

“On behalf of the Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP) Planning Council I am asking that you and your staff initiate a full investigation into incident between protester Michael Cartier and plain clothes police officers operating out of an unmarked vehicle, which took place on Saturday, August 16, 2020. There seems to be some questions about the appropriateness of what took place, so we are hopeful that clarity and an honest assessment of this situation can be provided expeditiously.

As the Mayor’s Task Force continues to look into how our Pittsburgh Police Bureau can perform in a more professional, appropriate and community-oriented fashion it is important that while that work continues, that our officers operate in the most appropriate manner in the midst of the continuing protests, and that there be continuing and expanded efforts to work out proper and workable relationships between leadership from the protesters and leadership from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.

Thank you for your anticipated cooperation and support in our request.”