The protest in Allegheny County pertaining to the Antwon Rose police shooting persist, though the media coverage of them has largely died down. Rose was just 17 and unarmed this year when he was shot in the back by Officer Michael Rosefield while fleeing from the police. Rosefield has been criminally charged after heated protests in North Braddock, but initially District Attorney Stephen Zapalla had seemed hesitant to charge him or even identify him.
This week the activists were out in full force in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse demanding to meet with Stephen Zapalla and armed with a list of demands. They were met head on with officers decked out in riot gear, and public safety officials who decried their presence outside of the courthouse, siting new city-issued guidelines limiting protestors.
Safety Directer Wendell Hissrich and Allegheny Chief of Police Scott Schubert arrived on scene as the protestors grew increasingly heated and seemed unabated and undiscouraged by a significant number of riot police, and seemingly prepared to act in an instance to enforce the new city codes.
The new city codes limiting activities of protestors were recently put into place, and activists are accusing city officials of putting these codes in place as a reactionary measure to the Antwon Rose activists who have been taking to the street for weeks now, and stirring up a lot of noise on the feet away from the front doors of the courthouse.
It was late in the morning on Friday July 27, when tensions appeared to be especially thick, and multiple activists could be heard from within the courthouse shouting through bull horns. More more officers were called to the scene and a line of police motorcycles was formed flanking the riot police. This only seemed to incite more excitement from the demonstrators who have been consistently out in front of the public buildings and been taking to the street since the June 17th shooting occurred.
The City has spent countless resources trying to figure out how to handle the zealous display of public citizen advocacy displayed. Over the course of the summer, the protestors have caused mayhem. The Times Tribune specifically recalls an evening where there was hours of completely stopped cars attempting to commute home after a highly anticipated Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. Instead of dwindling in numbers as the June 17 shooting date grows further into the past, protestors are – instead – going in force, and becoming an expected daily nuisance, well known for their habitual blocking of major arterial city streets during rush hour traffic. Overtime costs at just the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police have exceeded $1 million since East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld shot and killed 17-year-old Rose, who was unarmed. Rosfeld is white, and Rose was black. CITATION Mayor Bill Peduta recently just weeks ago took to a city council meeting to implore law enforcement officials to do something about the chaos caused by activists and stated his office has been flooded with emails and calls.
District Attorney Stephen Zapalla initially largely ignored the protestors, but he overtime he has softened and addressed them directly in a few press releases. He says he is happy to meet with advocacy leaders, but has not met with them and seems to be very wary and uncertain of exactly how to handle this public outpouring of outrage, likely mainly with a selfish concern for his own public image in mind.
Later that morning on Friday July 27, things got pretty serious when the Allegheny Chief of Police Officer Scott Schubert and Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Hissrich arrived on scene flanked by a number of city officials and seemed intent to enforce the new city ordinances, and quash some of the disruption. Videos of the tense scene poured over twitter accounts, and activist leader Nicky Jo Dawson could be heard screeching at Chief of Police Scott Shubert through a megaphone only feet away from his face.
Nicky Jo Dawson is not stranger to Pittsburgh law enforcement and has become somewhat of a target of theirs for her vocal dissent against “racist actions” of Pittsburgh law enforcement. She has a particular knack for starting disorder and commotion and orchestrating large crowds into showing up, and then working them up into an angered state of mind once they arrive on site. The scene outside the courthouse has been described by conservative leaders of city government as pure “anarchy.”
Dawson has been a regular loudmouth on scene as well as in the Pittsburgh press.
She is joined by Melanie Carter who also developed some local fame and personal notoriety after being arrested for disorderly conduct and trespassing after filming several teenagers being removed by security from a movie theater on her cell phone. Instead of succumbing to the charges (which were minor), she released the cell phone video which when viral around social media, and depicts really nothing notable at all.
Certainly it’s hard to see anything criminal in her conduct from the vantage point of her cell phone video. The arresting Officer, Chris Kelly, has been a subject of local ridicule for arresting the small in stature, thin wirey 35 year old simply for shooting a cell phone video in a public place. Despite the taunting, District Attorney Stephen Zapalla has remained a staunch supporter of Officer Kelly, taking to the press on at least two occasions and insisting that the officer was within his legal authority to arrest Carter and “did nothing wrong.”
Almost as soon as Zapalla returned fire to the black lives matter fury over Carter’s arrest, the American Civil Liberties Union intervened with a critical press release, and a number of large political advocacy groups stepped in to aid Carter, who has retained a lawyer and is in the process of filing a first amendment suit. Despite the formidable force of supporters behind Carter, District Attorney Zapalla has refused to back down. Backing off of the Carter case and dropping Officer Kelly’s charges against Carter would likely be interpreted as a slap in the face to a unified Pittsburgh police department, threatened by the fire of a political hailstorm brought on by the Antwon Rose shooting.
Melanie Carter has now become a thorn in Zapalla’s side, appearing regularly to offer rage fueled criticism of him, and now standing next to Black Lives Matter activist Nicky Jo Dawson with her own megaphone screaming just feet away from the Pittsburgh Chief of Police. They are backed by with a field of supportive cheering protestors, who chant, cheer, heckle and generally seem to fire them up even more. They feed off each other, and are too noisy and too inconvenient to be ignored. Police Chief Scott Schubert appeared to be calm at first, but you could see him getting rankled as he tried to address the activist leaders directly, but were met with ridicule blast over 2-3 megaphones, and a chorus of protestors chanting some disparaging (and at times pretty humorous) things about him. His presence July 27 to enforce the new city ordinances on protesting did quite the opposite of what he intended, which was to quash the terrifically loud disorder and traffic jams that peaked midday, but went on all day.
Chief of Police Scott Schubert can be heard first patiently directing demonstrators to follow new ordinances and maintain safety, then pleading with them to move to designated intersections and then breaking down to their heckling, and engaging them with a perceivable – and eyebrow-raising – tone of hostility. The city of Pittsburgh has given up on the idea that the protestors are going to be prevented from causing pile ups, so now they are just trying to manage the flow. A city counsel meeting resulted in a consensus by local leaders designating the certain intersections that demonstrators would now be a “allowed” to clog, and a methodology for diverting traffic around those intersections. But this did little to appease the protest group, who defiantly and specifically began to target every intersection except those that had been designated by local government authorities. The diverted traffic plan was an utter failure and caused even a bigger traffic pile up than the existing one it was attempting to mitigate.
Now face-to-face, there was quite a scene with Chief of Police Scott Schubert visibly beginning to lose his composure, at times covering his ears from the screaming in the megaphones that were just feet away and addressing him directly. At one point on a particular video, he can be heard shouting back to Nicky Jo Dawson that a megaphone could be considered a weapon, and inferring an arrest, which only incited her anger and the excitement of the crowd further.
City authorities insist the new ordinances and designated intersections are not meant to be restrictive, but function to preserve the groups right to protest. “You are imposing guidelines on people who have done nothing to hurt the public safety, You’re protecting these people next to you. Dawson can be heard shouting back at the Schubert who was clearly (by this time) losing his patience with the heckling and miscreance. Sign wavers and supporters chimed in, and Carter called him a “white devil” which momentarily resulted in the crowd behind them beginning to chant it at him.
Armed with a written list of demands, Carter and Dawson were insistent on hand delivering their letter to D.A. Zapalla whose department was proximal enough that he could likely hear and see the scene from office window, certainly it was audible in the courtrooms.
In their list of demands one target was Allegeny Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning, who has been assigned to preside over the pending criminal case for the shooting officer Michael Rosefeld, who shot and killed Antwon Rose. He went from “not likely to be charged” and “placed on indefinate administrative leave” to being charged with a laundry list of items, including capital murder.
The advocacy groups so vehemently object to the Judge Manning presiding over the case in part due to the attorney Rosefeld retained, who is known for his political affiliatioin and “friendship” with Judge Manning. Protestors said Manning has a “strong relationship” with Patrick Thomassey, Rosfeld’s attorney. They cited political contributions made and a 2007 case when Thomassey allegedly refused to talk to the FBI regarding gifts he allegedly purchased for Manning, in return for favors. CITATION
Rosefeld likely strategically had retained Thomassey in part due to his longstanding and well known relationship with the powerful Judge, who is now in his 7os. Judge Manning is not known for his judicial propriety in terms of keeping a professional distance from personal relationships with a elite league of Pittsburgh’s most powerful criminal defense attorneys. In 2004 the Times Tribune leaked information that Judge Manning was sharing season tickets to Steelers games with another powerful defense lawyer, and was subsequently subpoenaed to testify in front of a 2007 investigating grand jury. The matter was ultimately dropped with no indictment, but Judge Manning’s reputation for “collusion” with a small close knit network of high-powered local defense lawyers had been set in stone as part of his ongoing, less than upstanding, reputation in the judiciary.
Mannings chambers were described by some of the most elite Pittsburgh criminal lawyers as a sort of “social club” where Attorneys can kick back after hearings (if they are lucky enough to get an invitation in to Manning’s prestigious private lair. If the Allegheny County Courthouse has a town square for lawyers and judges, it’s Room 325, the office that contains Judge Jeffrey A. Manning’s chambers. The room can get raucous as attorneys and judges tell jokes, trade stories and catch a break from court business. CITATION Of course the excluded attorneys (mainly the new, young or overly bold) yell “foul”, allegations of ex parte are rampant. And closed door deals and political favors on a handshake between friends are apparent even to a casual analytical follower of Pittsburgh legal news. I would venture to say that magisterial Judge Jeffrey Manning makes a compelling argument for a mandatory retirement age, as he appears to arrogant or too overcome by dementia to follow basic ethical rules.
Prior to being elected Judge, Jeffrey Manning had been Allegheny District Attorney, and back in the day known for his “tough on crime” agenda and traditional, hard-ball, Reagan-esque prosecutorial approach. Fast forward to today he is just as conventional and out-dated a judge, as he was a District Attorney. He maintains strict order in courthouse proceedings, he purportedly runs a very tight ship that is inclusive of a strict dress code and has been known to “chew out” lawyers who challenge him, or who are inexperienced, or come to court unprepared, or otherwise annoy him in any imaginable way.
Stephen Zapalla, who was once in Manning’s tight knit circles of powerful attorney “friends”, was elected and the two a-type powerhouses almost immediately began to butt heads. Their political struggle to “out do” each other led to repeated contentious showdowns in court (very amusing to follow in the news). Zapalla seemed to grow three feet in ego when he was elected, and bolder by each passing year. D.A. Zapalla began ousting some of the political good old boy network collusion he had personally been privy to (and before didn’t seemed to mind) prior to be elected district attorney. Now that he was on the other side, he suddenly took moral offense to the politicking and flagrantly open exchange of gifts, donations and favors in Mannings inner fraternity club.
That between Judge and DA feud came to a scandalous head late last year in the matter of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Derek Vasos, which was front page Tribune news every day of the trial. The criminal defendant Vasos was represented by known political ally and personal friend of Manning, Attorney Philip DiLuncente. Vasos had been charged with murder after a shooting death outside a Pittsburgh strip club, and had a known reputation as a playboy and was said to have received the red carpet treatment throughout the trial. Vasos claim the homicide victim had approached him with drunk and angrily with a weapon when Vasos pulled out his revolver (he had valid license to carry) and shot him out the window from inside an Uber vehicle. The police had charged him very zealously likely in part to his belligerence during the rest, and defiant lack of cooperation during interrogations/investigations. It had been unheard of in Pittsburgh for anyone facing similar charges to be granted bail under any circumstances. But Vasos was white, and had some money to throw around on one of the best legal defense lawyers in the region, and he hired DiLucente.
DiLucente filed a petition to grant bail, and the his motion was then GRANTED by Judge Manning, much to the astonishment of the Pittsburgh legal community. Jaws hit the floor when the Order came down, and then the outrage began. Manning had refused to continue the bail hearing despite its very short notice, and the unavailability of the victim’s family to be able to attend. Subsequently, Vaso’s was released on bail. Zapalla went through the roof and took to the media waves in vitriolic reaction to the bail order that Manning had signed releasing Derek Vasos back into the public. He did several interviews chastising the judge, and responded with a lengthy and heated petition which pointed out how ludicrous the BailOrder was given the nature of Vasos crimes and historical Pittsburgh case precedent for homicide cases.
This was the peak of the Manning-Zapalla toe-to-toe war to be top dog, which some say is ongoing, but I haven’t seen much wrangling between them in the press of late. In the chaos of the Antwon Rose police shooting death, Manning and Zapalla appeared to put aside their political differences to address the ensuing contraversary and chaos surrounding the heated public emotions pertaining to the pending criminal case of Rosefeld.
Zapalla who has historically had a tight union with the fraternal order of police had seemed reluctant to press charges initially, but now it seems he is willing to forego pressures from the police unions in light of the massive attention and pressure by the media and unwaveringly persistant noise of the black lives matter demonstrators outside his court house. Manning, likely also sympathetic to police unions, has granted bail pending trial and taken some of the fraternal heat off Zapalla in that gesture of civility. Thomassey, the defense lawyer in this notably high-profile case, is likely working every angle of his political connections with Manning. Zapalla seems less than enthusiastic to zealously try this case and more waiting impatiently for all the ruckus to pass.
The victims family has recently formed an alliance with demonstrator leaders, after feeling slighted after D.A. Zapalla made arrangements to meet with them personally, and then sent a spokes person instead. They have publicly decried and slandered Zapalla’s handling of the case, and also come to the consensus that there is no possible way it could be handled fairly given the corrupt political backdrop of the Allegheny Court system, and the players involved in the case.
Probably the most passionate demand in the letter by demonstrators is their wish that Zapalla recuse himself and let Shapiro take over the case, a demand the victim’s family likely supports. Zapalla, known for his tight friendship with Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has yet to recuse himself and dodges meetings with protestors and the victim’s family. He is delicately handling this case, walking on a tightrope with pressures on both sides from the fraternal order of police and the extensive political heat he is getting from advocacy groups to procure a tough sentence for Rosefeld.
Josh Shapiro wants to be as far away from the Rosefeld case as possible, given the fraternal order of police’s support of the criminal homicide defendant cop. Shapiro wants nothing to do with the case, and would probably recieve the news of Zapalla recusing himself with a fair amount of annoyance and reluctance to jump into the political sandstorm.
Zapalla has since met with the victims family on one occasion to try and rebuild an alliance and divert them away from the angry mob of demonstrators. A spokesman for the office said Zappala has previously met with the Rose family to discuss their concerns and explain “how the judicial process is expected to unfold in this case.” Zappala would meet with the family again if they so desire.
On the early afternoon of Friday, July 27, in the presence of the Allegheny Chief of Police was poised feet spread apart arms crossed, in front of a crowd. There were a multitude of community supporters who appeared in support of Anton Rose’s family. Now with the attention of city officials, the demonstrators read their letter via megaphone. It was a letter that they had been denied permission to hand deliver to Zapalla. They cited their concerns for Judge Manning’s rumored “strong relationship” with Rosefeld’s Attorney Patrick Thomassey, backing their allegations with evidence of political contributions to Mann’s retention bid PAC funds. They dug up the archived 2007 federal investigating grand jury that looked into Manning, and discovered Thomassey had also been a subject in that case but had refused to testify, invoking his fifth amendment rights. He was accused of buying Manning lavish gifts, an allegation Thomassey still to this day won’t affirm or deny when pressed for answers by the media.
Activists demanded that Rosfeld – who is free on $250,000 unsecured bond – be remanded to jail and that there be “a fair and just jury selection process, of folks who represent the community who experiences police brutality.” The Allegheny County Fraternal Order of Police, who already feel targeted and threatened by the presence of demonstrators, would likely find any revocation of bail to be an indication of Manning and/or Zapalla faltering in their support of the union, and “giving in” to media pressures.
“We’ve seen, in this case, the mishandling of justice from the bottom up,” Dawson said. “We have to take back power and place this case in the hands of someone who can operate beyond the bias of the courts and justice system of Greater Pittsburgh.”
Tensions are very high. Protesters demanded Hissrich open an investigation into a commander that some alleged used a racial slur in a meeting with protest leaders. Police later said in a statement that the commander – who they did not identify – was explaining to organizers why a motorist was arrested during a North Shore protest last month. Particular with Rosefeld’s support of police unions, any additional prosecutorial action initiated at this time would likely be perceived as an “attack” on the police.
A spokesperson for District Attorney Stephen Zapalla attempted to mitigate some of the accusations of racism and soften the outrage in a public statement a couple weeks ago: “While explaining the arrest during the meeting with protest organizers, the commander quoted what the motorist said,” which included the racial slur. The statement did little to abate mounting anger of demonstrators, or stifle their suspicions of racial inequality occurring during the administration of justice. Their protests are spurred on from an angry and fearful place, but they are effective in being heard. The discourse cannot be ignored or overlooked, and arguably Pittsburgh has not seen such passionate demonstrations since the movement for racial equality in the 1960s. A few traffic jams will be worth the inconvenience if any sort of positive change can come of this.
The obvious underlying political dialogue surrounds the question as to what role race plays in the criminal justice system. It is an obvious theme of this case, and a reoccurring discussion since the Ferguson shooting. The idea that there is an inferred, veiled presence of racism particularly in Allegheny County is pervasive and convincing. I believe some mechanisms to change that culture are more than overdue, and the tension in Pittsburgh will result in some social evolution for the better. Protesters ended their demonstration in Market Square, where a live band played “Love the One You’re With” and turned the microphone over to prominent protester Dustin Gibson, who reiterated the demands regarding Zappala, Manning and Shapiro. Melvin Pollard was eating his lunch in Market Square as protesters poured in. He questioned why some many police officers are necessary for a non-violent protest. “There are eight or nine in this corner, 10 or so in that corner,” he said, gesturing around the square. “There isn’t this many down here on St. Patrick’s Day. Why do you need to have that show of force when African-Americans want to have a dispute?”
Meanwhile the outpouring of public sympathy for local law enforcement has resulted in compelling (yet politically explosive) letters to the editor published in the Times Tribune. These letters reveal a two-sided tension that is inherently just further polarizing the already very dichotomous public opinion shrouding this case. Anyone local to Pittsburgh seems to be very far off on one side of the fence or the other with very little middle ground. Everyone who commutes through Pittsburgh traffic can’t be unaware of what tensions are playing out in the streets and courtrooms downtown. Anyone you ask has an opinion on the case, everyone is aware, and a strange (but I think very important) political state of turmoil has descended over Pittsburgh.
It should be very interesting to watch how this all unfolds. I hope there are some lasting ripple effects of this discourse on racism. You likely I am openly not fan of Mr. Zapalla (mostly due to his affiliations with Shapiro and his failure to act early on in the diocese abuse cases in Pittsburgh), and I very much think Zapalla is walking on ice with the Rosefeld case. I believe that voters will be watching very carefully studying him while he handles this case, and scrutinizing him wondering if he is part of the purported systemic racism in the Allegheny County criminal justice system. Given his ambitions to re-run for Attorney General and his close political affiliations with Josh Shapiro, this is a high-pressure “make or break you” sort of case that can be career defining or career ending for an elected politician in his particular seat.