By: KDKA-TV News Staff
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The arrest of a protester in Oakland on Saturday is causing outrage.
Video of social media shows police in street clothes take the man, 25-year-old Matthew Cartier of Pittsburgh, away in unmarked white vans. Police say Cartier was interfering with public safety, but protesters say police crossed the line and are using force to intimidate protesters.
This video circulating on social media has people calling for accountability from the mayor and police. Pittsburgh Public Safety confirmed these were Pittsburgh Police officers.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Public Safety officials held a press conference Sunday about what happened on Saturday.
“Watching these tactics, his refusal to cooperate and the information that we were given…we decided to effect a low visibility arrest of the individual because when high visibility stuff takes place with these marches, it tends to attract a crowd and incite them further. So we decided low visibility was the best way to do it,” said one of the incident commanders from yesterday. “And it also gave us the ability if he suddenly started cooperating to call the arrest off.”
The incident commander added that they did not call off the arrest after Cartier “refused” to cooperate.
Police reiterated multiple times that they have reportedly been having cooperation issues with protesters and organizers in the last few weeks and that yesterday’s incident was an example of that. While most demonstrators are peaceful, police say they are worried that a breakdown in communication between protesters and police could lead to someone getting injured or killed by way of a traffic accident.
“…in recent weeks, they have also become increasingly unsafe. And for me as Public Safety Director for the City of Pittsburgh, it is alarming when the ability to protect all citizens and visitors is superseded by the rights of some,” said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich. “The unwillingness of protest organizers to consult with police either before or during demonstrations about planned protest routes is beginning to place numerous persons in danger.”
Police say that they warned Cartier “several times” to not block intersections during the demonstration in Oakland.
“We were doing this because of the fact that yesterday was also the move-in day for the University of Pittsburgh so traffic was extremely heavy,” said Sergeant Donald Mitchell of the Civil Affairs unit.
Mitchell also said that traffic from ambulances as well as to and from hospitals in the area was a concern.
“Believe me, as a Pittsburgher and as a police officer, nobody wants to see what looks like things that happened in Portland and other areas,” Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Shubert said. “That is not our intent. We did not do something to try to make people frightened or not understand what was going on.”
In the press conference, Mayor Bill Peduto said he found out about the arrest “moments” after it had happened and that he was concerned about the tactics used by police.
Peduto said he notified leadership with the police bureau about his concerns today and that meetings were held to discuss what occurred yesterday.
“When we look at pop-out as a tactic, especially with officers who are in plain clothes, we have to examine when that is appropriate,” he said. “We have to have an understanding if that is a tactic that should be utilized for a protest, and if so, when. And if when, why.”
Peduto also said that he was “uncomfortable” when he first saw the video of the arrest.
On Saturday night, Mayor Bill Peduto initially responded to the incident:
“The right to assemble is a guaranteed right, the right to shut down public streets, is a privilege. That privilege is sanctioned by laws and codes. In Pittsburgh, we worked w ACLU; CPRB to create our codes.”
Just a quick reminder of Constitutional rights. They have restrictions. The right to assemble is a guaranteed right, the right to shut down public streets, is a privilege. That privilege is sanctioned by laws and codes. In Pittsburgh, we worked w ACLU & CPRB to create our codes.
— bill peduto (@billpeduto) August 16, 2020
The ACLU responded to Peduto’s tweet on Sunday.
“Mayor Peduto is correct that the ACLU of Pennsylvania consulted with the city in drafting guidelines for how to handle protests, specifically unpermitted protests that block roadways,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“However, based on eyewitness accounts, the arresting officers were in clear violation of their own guidelines. According to those who were there, the law enforcement officers involved made no effort to work with protest leaders to clear the area and gave no clear dispersal order. Instead, they tricked a protest leader to approach them and then whisked him away. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has never suggested that the snatch-and-stash arrest of a peaceful demonstrator is ever acceptable.”
Another ACLU employee also condemned the actions taken by Pittsburgh Police.
“Once again, police in Pittsburgh have shown why people are in the streets protesting for Black lives and against police brutality,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Even when their behavior has been exposed for all to see, Pittsburgh police continue to abuse the people they are meant to serve.”
“Mayor Peduto and Chief Schubert owe the people of this city a full accounting of what happened in Oakland yesterday,” Walczak added. “If the officers involved failed to follow the city’s own guidelines for managing protests, those officers must be held accountable.”
Activists online say that Cartier was the marshal of the protest. According to the criminal complaint, a special deployment officer saw Cartier run ahead of the protests to block streets for the Civil Saturday demonstration. Officers allege his actions were startling motorists and advised him to stop.
Police say at the intersection of Dithridge Street and Fifth Avenue Cartier blocked traffic again causing cars to stop suddenly and unsafely. At the point, an officer asked him to move and Cartier allegedly refused. The officer told him he was blocking a way to the hospitals in Oakland. And Cartier is accused of saying “show us the ambulance buddy.”
Police would later arrest him after he didn’t move. The criminal complaint says officer body camera shows Cartier’s actions. The social media video that shows the alleged arrest takes place near the intersection of Bouquet Street and Forbes Avenue.
We reached out to Cartier through Twitter, and he replied that he did not want to speak with KDKA. But he tweeted a thread of his account of Saturday’s arrest.
Cartier says police came to him in an unmarked van and lured him closer by asking how to get around the protest. And when he got near the van, he alleges police grabbed him while quote “heavily armed men” jumped out to arrest him. The thread goes on to say Cartier was taken to the busway where he was searched before going to the Allegheny County Jail.
Cartier is facing charges of obstruction of a highway or other public passage, disorderly conduct, and failure to disperse.
Hissirch said in the press conference that over 100 demonstrations have taken place in Pittsburgh since the death of George Floyd and that most of the demonstrations have been happening on a weekly if not a daily basis.
Stay with KDKA as we follow this developing story.