PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In late 2017, the owner of a small apartment building in Brighton Heights asked his neighbor, Darian Balcom, who owned the house across the street, to rescue some dogs a tenant left behind.

When Balcom and her friend, Matthew Grebner, followed through and rescued some abandoned cats, too, bringing them back to her building, something unexpected happened.

“Suddenly there were many police officers in my building,” Balcom told KDKA’s Jon Delano on Thursday. “Apparently [the police] were told there was a burglary in process.”

Although authorized to rescue the animals, in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday, Balcom alleges that Officer Gabe Figueroa wrongfully arrested her after she complained when he called her “sweetheart.”

“I responded, ‘don’t call me sweetheart’ because I thought it was just being very disrespectful,” said Balcom.

And then it turned political.

“Officer Figueroa said to me, ‘you probably don’t like Trump, do you?’” Balcom said. “And I said, ‘no I don’t,’ and he said, ‘I’m glad he won the election.’ And then right after that he put me under arrest,” Balcom said.

Pittsburgh Police ultimately handcuffed and arrested Balcom on her property in Brighton Heights, but it’s what they said to her friend and colleague that led to this federal lawsuit.

Although Balcom was arrested, Grebner says Figueroa told him he was not under arrest, adding this about Balcom: “He said she hadn’t really done anything wrong but she sassed the police. ‘She was just trying to help out animals, but she’s a bleeding heart liberal. She can’t sass the police so she’s getting arrested.’”

Delano: “The officer said she was a bleeding heart liberal?”
Grebner: “Yes, exactly that.”

Balcom has sued the city and Figueroa, alleging violations of her free speech and equal protection rights.

“As long as you’re not interfering with them performing their duties, you have an absolute right to criticize the police,” said Margaret Coleman, Balcom’s attorney. “[It’s] the right of every person to have their own political beliefs and to not agree with the people who are in power.”

The city said it had no comment yet on the lawsuit.