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Trial and Error

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A mask-wearing demonstrator stays a step ahead of the law during the G-20 summit. - CHARLIE DEITCH
  • Charlie Deitch
  • A mask-wearing demonstrator stays a step ahead of the law during the G-20 summit.

Some of the more colorful criminal cases arising from the G-20 have yet to come to trial -- the protester in a cow suit who's accused of trying to cause a riot in Bloomfield, for instance. But after multiple hearings in the year since G-20, it's clear that many of the dozen cases which have concluded this summer or are scheduled through October hinge on just a few issues. Among them: the number of out-of-town police imported for the G-20 but now unavailable for trials; the methods police used to corral people and make mass arrests; and the unavoidable but vague recorded announcement employed to disperse crowds.

Sure to feature prominently in the remaining criminal trials is the testimony of two city police officers brought in to aid many previous prosecutions. One is Lt. Ed Trapp, assistant night-turn operations commander in Oakland during the G-20. Trapp has been called to testify on the movement of law enforcement during the nights of Sept. 24 and 25 last year, when the vast majority of summit arrests occurred. The other is Det. William Friburger, who testifies about the two mobile Long-Range Acoustical Devices, or LRADs.

The LRADs, which broadcast their identical dispersal announcement to multiple crowds on both G-20 days, used a message that was loud -- designed to be heard half a mile or more away -- but unclear. "By order of the Pittsburgh chief of police ... I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly," it said in English and Spanish. "You must leave the immediate vicinity."

Defense lawyers will certainly continue to question how arrestees could determine what the "immediate vicinity" was, or how they were supposed to leave it. The announcement was audible throughout large swaths of Oakland and the East End, after all, and the LRAD itself was mobile.

Leechburg attorney Chuck Pascal made such arguments on July 28, at the trial of Aaron Arnold, of Lebanon, Pa. Arnold, then a Pitt student, was arrested Sept. 24, 2009, for failing to disperse from Schenley Quad, an area bordered by Fifth Avenue, Pitt's bookstore and dorms. Arnold has said he had been trying to find a route to his car through police lines that had confronted another gathering -- this one at Schenley Plaza, bordered by the Carnegie and Pitt libraries.

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"If you were on Fifth Avenue while the LRAD was still on Schenley Plaza," Pascal asked Friburger, "it wouldn't necessarily be aimed at you?"

"You would hear its warning, [but] it would be up to your interpretation" whether to leave, Friburger testified.

"If you could hear it in parts of North Oakland, was it your intent to disperse those people as well?" Pascal said.

"No. It was our intent to disperse" Schenley Plaza, Friburger said.

Trapp was also questioned about the intended effect of the LRAD announcement on the Schenley Plaza crowd.

"Where were you trying to get them to go?" asked Assistant District Attorney Brian Catanzarite.

"Out of the vicinity," Trapp said. "If they lived [in Oakland], our goal was to get them to go home."

"Did you have any safe areas ... where people would disperse into?"

No, Trapp answered. "We wanted them to go inside."

But, as Arnold's arresting officer, Frank Welling of the Pittsburgh police, later testified, dispersing people from Schenley Quad only served to push people onto the very streets Trapp was trying to clear.

Arnold was convicted of failure to disperse anyway, and sentenced to six months probation.

"Anyone who was there would understand that the ability to move freely was restricted by the police being hostile towards anyone they encountered and not allowing anyone to approach them without the risk of arrest," Arnold said in an e-mail after the verdict.

Others rounded up in Oakland have been luckier in court. Among them was Adam Dulak, of Windber, Pa., who had emerged from an LRAD-free Peter's Pub on Sept. 25 -- only to run into a cloud of pepper spray and immediate arrest.

As Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Melada admitted at Dulak's preliminary hearing: "We can't argue failure to disperse unless we establish the defendant was part of an unruly crowd." Dulak was found not guilty in a June trial.

Similar circumstances will factor into the Sept. 16 trial of Mackenzie Peoples, an Ohio student arrested the night of Sept. 25, 2009, in Oakland. "When they were pushed out of [Schenley] Plaza they were free to go anywhere," Trapp said at Peoples' preliminary hearing last year. Peoples claims she had tried to go somewhere outside the plaza -- but apparently it wasn't the right somewhere.

Some of the criminal cases, meanwhile, hang on questions of identity.

The Oct. 28 trial of Lawrenceville resident Frank Smith, for example, will weigh charges that he moved too slowly away from police lines on Forbes Avenue on Sept. 24. He is also accused of struggling with his arresting officers -- out-of-town sheriffs whom prosecutors could no longer identify even at Smith's preliminary hearing. That was less than six weeks after the G-20, Smith's attorney Jon Pushinsky pointed out.

And did Pittsburgh police officer William Churilla get the right man when he arrested Trevor Burgess for tossing a brick at Churilla's helmet during a Sept. 24 skirmish at Baum and Liberty? Defense lawyer Paul Boas had "serious reservations about identification" during Burgess's preliminary hearing last year; his trial is set for Sept. 28.

And the man in the cow suit? There may be a deal in the works for Ohio resident Kalan Sherrard, says his lawyer, Mike Healey. Otherwise, his trial starts Sept. 22.

After the criminal courts empty, look for the civil courts to fill.

"I started filing civil cases," says Pushinsky. "Keep your eyes open. There's more on the way."

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