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Charges Not Enough, Too Many

An activist protests two deaths, then faces charges herself ...and it's all related, she maintains.

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Renee Wilson wants to see Mount Oliver Borough and Pittsburgh Police charged with homicide for the deaths of two black men in their custody. But after protesting their deaths, she and her immediate family were arrested for bank fraud – charges motivated by her protests, she says.

Wilson's new group, People Against Police Violence, paraded through Mount Oliver on Sept. 6, asking for District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. to file criminal charges against police for the deaths of Charles Dixon and Damian Jordan. Dixon died Dec. 23 last year, after a pile of 13 city and Mount Oliver police subdued him when he protested the arrest of his brother, whose crime was sticking his hand in a bowl of spaghetti at a Mount Oliver Fire Hall party. Coroner Cyril Wecht has labeled Dixon's death a homicide, and Zappala is still weighing possible charges against police officers.

However, Wecht has ruled the death of Jordan a suicide. He was found hanging by his T-shirt in his Mount Oliver holding cell on Oct. 4, 1999, after being arrested on multiple charges (including attempted arson) following an argument with his girlfriend. Wilson contends Jordan did not kill himself; she points to testimony at the coroner's inquest that showed Jordan was left unmonitored by police charged with surveillance of his cell at the time of his death.

Wilson, of the Hill District, takes the deaths of these two men personally. It's not simply because a child of Jordan's is practically in her family -- her son Lee is dating the child's mother, Summer Edmonds.

"I am related to all these situations because it is wrong," Wilson says. "And it's not wrong because Renee says it. It's just terrible. We think the whole city should be in an outrage."

On Aug. 11, she and others sent Zappala a letter demanding charges in Charles Dixon's death, as well as protection for any witnesses against police in the case. They haven't received a reply, she says. But she thinks her arrest and those of her son, her daughter Shayla and her ex-husband (also named Lee) came in reaction to her group's activism. County police, who made the arrests, were not immediately available for comment.

Wilson and her family have been accused of writing checks and using bank machines to withdraw money on deposits they knew to be bad. Wilson maintains that she uses her account at First National Bank as anyone does – occasionally bouncing a check.

Seeing pictures of her family on television has already been punishment, Wilson maintains. "My family is being accused like I'm a bank robber that had some sort of organization. The only thing they forgot to give us is a gun and a mask."

She finds it most ironic that no one has yet been charged in Dixon's death.

"If I gotta go Downtown and get booked, and these people don't, what's wrong with this picture?"

"But I am not weak, and my knees won't bend. When I go to court the charges will blow away."

"That's right. These aren't going to stand up," says Nathaniel Glosser, whose nonprofit Rosenberg Institute for Peace and Justice finances Wilson's group and backed last week's march. "In fact, when we get them dismissed we are going to bring a suit of harassment against the police."

Glosser put up his Highland Park house to secure Wilson's bond after her arrest. He hopes the DA will "do the right thing, which is to prosecute the officers responsible" for Dixon's death.

"I work with police on various things and I'm getting some flack from some of them regarding my advocacy on behalf of PAPV," says Glosser, whose Institute also advocates for gun control. "Some of them feel I'm making it harder for them to do their jobs in that I'm focusing on certain bad acts by certain bad police officers." But it's the bad officers who make the job harder for the rest of them, he says. If Glosser does his job, "then the [officers] who are left will not be left burdened with the presence of the bad apples," he maintains.

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