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Pittsburgh Protestors File Class Claims Against City Police for Excessive Force

Elizabeth DiNardo, Esq. | Associate Counsel

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Class claims were filed in federal court in the Western District of Pennsylvania against the City of Pittsburgh and multiple other city officials, including Pittsburgh mayor William Peduto, by a group of protestors who alleged that Pittsburgh police responded to a peaceful protest with undue aggression.

In the complaint, named plaintiffs Nicole Rulli, Charles Bryant Jr., Simon Phillips, Donovan Hayden, Jennifer Yoder and Christopher Wilson Juring allege that on June 1, 2020, people from the city of Pittsburgh and its surrounding communities assembled in the city’s East Liberty neighborhood to protest for equality and justice. However, soon after the peaceful protest began, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police sent hundreds of police officers to counter the approximately 150 protestors, thus escalating the situation from peaceful to violent.

The plaintiffs argued that despite the protestors chanting “this is not a riot” and holding their hands in the air while saying “don’t shoot,” the Pittsburgh police were ordered to combat the crowd using chemical gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, flashbang grenades and other riot-control methods. Bolstering the plaintiffs’ argument that the police willingly intensified the situation, the claim stated that many police officers wore helmets, face shields and gas masks while carrying bats or firearms. Numerous officers were dressed in allegedly unnecessary military gear and carried firearms and other tactical gear.

According to the complaint, despite the total lack of any destruction, property damage or violent behavior on the part of the protestors, the police blocked protestors’ egress with chemical gas, riot police and mounted patrol. Several of the protestors were left wounded by police aggression and claim that the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police subsequently drove past in ambulances but  offered no assistance. A number of protestors were arrested for failing to disperse and subjected to confinement in a police holding facility, where they were put them at risk due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The plaintiffs seek to represent a class made up of every individual who was present at, or near the intersection of Centre Avenue and Negley Avenue in the City of Pittsburgh on June 1, 2020, for the purpose of engaging in lawful protest and who were ordered to disperse by the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. The suit brings causes of action for violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution for both excessive force and unlawful arrest, and violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The case is:  Rulli et al. v. City of Pittsburgh et al., Case No.: 2:20-cv-00965, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. et al., case number 2:20-cv-00965, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

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