- Noah Willumsen, right, is handcuffed following the counter-recruitment protest in April (Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group).
An anti-war protester who says he was choked by a Pittsburgh police officer had his Aug. 9 criminal hearing postponed while the officer found a "riot specialist" to testify at the rescheduled hearing.
Noah Willumsen, a protester with the Pittsburgh Organizing Group, and his lawyer were puzzled and upset by the delay. Following an April 3 protest at a Shadyside military recruitment center, Willumsen was cited for failure of disorderly persons to disperse, and obstruction of administration of law.
"He's not charged with rioting," says Willumsen's lawyer, Erika Kreisman, after a judge failed to grant her client's objection to the delay. "Justice delayed is justice denied."
Kreisman says the officer, city police Sgt. William Vollberg, wanted a riot specialist to attend the re-scheduled hearing, but says she was not told why. Vollberg did not attend the original hearing on Aug. 9.
Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala, says his office "requested a postponement because the officer could not attend the scheduled hearing.
"The officer is willing to talk with the defendant about resolving the case at the re-scheduled preliminary hearing," says Manko.
As reported in City Paper April 11, Willumsen, 19, and about two dozen other members of POG were picketing at the Marines recruiting site -- as part of the anti-war group's campaign against recruiting -- when the incident occurred.
Willumsen, of Bloomfield, and other picketers say the previously peaceful event changed when POG's Alex Bradley used a borrowed camera to photograph Vollberg. Vollberg allegedly shoved Bradley far from the scene but never tried to charge him with anything. Photographing police is not illegal.
POG witnesses and several passersby say Willumsen attracted Vollberg's attention soon afterward, by photographing police and objecting verbally to Vollberg's arrest of another picketer, Andrew Schultz. Schultz was cited when he raised objections about police treatment of Bradley.
After backhanding away Willumsen's camera phone, Vollberg "put his hands around my throat," Willumsen alleges. "He pushed me back a good dozen steps to the cop car, pushed me up against it, and cuffed the kid [Schultz] and I."
On its Web site, www.organizepittsburgh.org, POG has posted videotape of marks on Willumsen's neck, which the group says was taken immediately after the incident. According to a medical report from the student health services of the University of Pittsburgh the day after the incident, Willumsen had "multiple abrasions" and lacerations on his neck.
According to Vollberg's police report, obtained by CP, "Willumsen jumped out of the crowd, stepped directly into my path, and shoved something within six inches of my face," as he was handcuffing Schultz.
"I grabbed Willumsen by the collar of his T-shirt and lifted him up in order to gain control," the report continues.
Willumsen refutes the claim that he was interfering with Vollberg's arrest of Schultz.
"If I was between him and [Schultz], I would have been obstructing the law," Willumsen says. "But I was not between them. I only became an obstacle when he turned completely around and flew at me."
A couple of weeks after the incident, he filed a complaint with the Citizen Police Review Board, alleging that "No one at the protest did anything that merited physical abuse."
After finding out that the hearing had been postponed until next month, Kreisman said her client would consider withdrawing his CPRB complaint if Vollberg "drops these bogus charges."
But Willumsen was quick to dismiss his lawyer's claim.
"We're not trying to drop the CPRB complaint," he says. "We have a valid complaint."
The postponement comes as a disappointment to Willumsen, as the re-scheduled hearing will coincide with the start of his sophomore year at the University of Pittsburgh. He hopes the charges will eventually be "dismissed outright," but he's not about to give up his fight.
"I don't want to paint this as a middle-class white kid getting angry," Willumsen says. "The crux of the issue is holding police officers accountable."