Protesters detained after rally for inmates' rights leads to damage at county jail
March 20, 2017 10:13 PM
A rally outside Allegheny County Jail on Monday led to damages to a police vehicle.
By Dan Majors / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh police took several people into custody Monday night after a “noise rally” outside the Allegheny County Jail turned into a rock-throwing melee.
The incident began as an off-shoot of a Saturday rally organized by the ACJ Health Project protesting conditions at the jail. Organizer TeOnna Ross, who was not part of Monday night’s protest, she had heard talk of a “noise rally” aimed at getting inmates to come to the windows of their cells to see the protesters.
At some point, the 7 p.m. rally -- along a tall fence that separates jail property from the bike trail that parallels the Parkway East -- turned violent.
Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said jail staff reported a group of 20 to 25 people throwing rocks at the jail, breaking windows on the lower level and a security camera. Windows in two cars were broken and the arm of a traffic-control gate was broken off.
The protesters, many carrying sticks and wearing black masks, fled, but police were able to take 11 of them into custody. A bicycle officer suffered a shoulder injury during a scuffle with several protesters, Ms. Toler said.
Jail Warden Orlando Harper issued a statement thanking police for the response. He also denied that inmates at the jail were involved in any protests.
“Contrary to reports made by the group that has been organizing the protests over the last few days, there are no sit-ins or protests going on inside the jail, nor have there been,” Mr. Harper said. “Tonight’s incident has not impacted operations at all. The facility remains secure and safe for all inmates and employees.”
A statement from the ACJ Health Justice Project said it supports the rights of inmates “taking the high risk to organize.” It also supports inmates who have given jail officials a list of demands.
The group said it wants the jail to be closed and its prisoners transferred to “community alternatives.” It also seeks the firing of Mr. Harper and replacing him “with someone who has an appropriate background in mental health and care for inmates.”