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Police: Suit Bites Back for Activist Arrests

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The city will be sued in federal court next month over police use of stun guns, pepper spray and dogs at an Aug. 20 anti-military recruitment demonstration in Oakland, says lawyer Mike Healey.

 

Healey, who represents some of the six people arrested and cited during last summer's protest in front of the Forbes Avenue recruiting center, will allege that police used excessive force. Healey will seek damages on behalf of four people:

 

~ Protest organizer De'anna Caligiuri, with Pittsburgh Organizing Group, who was shot with a stun gun and arrested and still faces charges of obstruction of justice, likely at a May 8 trial;

~ Carole Wiedmann of Ohio Township, whom a police dog attempted to bite, but whose second-degree misdemeanor charge of failure to disperse was dismissed in December;

~ Two children, ages 7 and 9, of long-time activist Vincent Eirene, who confirms what the children told City Paper on Aug. 20 ... that they too breathed pepper spray during the altercation. 

 

Principally, Healey says, "the lawsuit will be trying to force the city to adopt reasonable policies on crowd control and the use of Tasers."

 

The suit will name as defendants the city, Pittsburgh Police and "potentially individual officers," he adds.

 

City Solicitor Susan Malie says the Office of Municipal Investigations, the internal police review department, has undertaken its own investigation of police actions on Aug. 20, but she cannot report the outcome. "Criminal charges are still pending, and as counsel for the arresting agency it's inappropriate for me to comment on pending litigation," she adds.

 

Healey says neither this investigation nor the outcome of the May 8 trial, which involves Caligiuri and two other protest defendants, will affect whether the federal lawsuit is filed.

 

"We're assuming [police] are going to say they didn't do anything wrong and we're going to be in federal court quite soon," he says. "Even if police do have grounds to arrest someone, they don't have grounds to use excessive force, and that's the heart of the case."

 

"In all my years of activism, I have never seen people held to the ground and Tasered or pepper-sprayed," says Eirene, though he surmises that "the Pittsburgh police were just as upset that it came down that way." His children, he adds, "were not hurt, but [not] until recently have they started to overcome their fear of the police or going to any type of demonstration, even if it's a candlelight vigil."

 

Suing opponents is not his usual way of creating change, Eirene says. But, he concludes facetiously, "In this situation, we felt it would be helpful for Pittsburgh police to develop some sort of policy so that they will beat people up in an orderly manner."

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