Chief reviewing arrest captured on video at Pirates game
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Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper is reviewing a Saturday night arrest in which officers used a Taser and nightsticks to subdue a man at the Pirates game at PNC Park.
A YouTube video of the arrest of Scott James Ashley, 41, of Friendship, drew many viewers on Sunday and shows city Detective Francis Rende and Officer Jeffrey W. LaBella striking Mr. Ashley several times before putting him on the ground and handcuffing him. Mr. Ashley was charged with harassment, public drunkenness, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Another woman, Amanda Harle, 30, of Mt. Lebanon, also was arrested after police said she yelled at officers taking Mr. Ashley into custody and then resisted an officer's attempts to remove her from the park, screaming obscenities and telling them that she worked for KDKA. She was charged with aggravated assault, defiant trespassing and disorderly conduct.
Detective Rende wrote in a criminal complaint that he and other officers encountered Mr. Ashley when they were called to the left field general admission section for reports of an unruly guest using foul language and refusing to leave the park. The detective said he asked him more than once to leave and Mr. Ashley refused.
The video shows the detective leading Mr. Ashley down the stairs; at the bottom, Mr. Ashley is seen elbowing a PNC Park employee. Detective Rende wrote in the complaint that he told Mr. Ashley he was under arrest but he refused to put his hands behind his back. When a Taser's jolt had no effect, the video shows Detective Rende and Officer LaBella hitting Mr. Ashley several times with their nightsticks.
"The Bureau of Police recognizes that police officers, in the performance of their duties, will encounter situations where it is necessary to use force in order to effect arrest or otherwise protect the public welfare or as a means of protecting themselves," Chief Harper wrote in a statement. "Officers shall only use a level of force that the officers might reasonably believe is necessary. Each use of force is documented and reviewed by each officer's supervisor and members in their chain of command."
Detective Rende wrote in the complaint that he and the officer feared for their safety.
"The actions of the subject in this incident which necessitated the use of force and the reasons why the officers used force are documented and reviewed," the chief wrote, adding that the city forbids excessive force.
As for the video, he said, the police bureau "recognizes the importance of video evidence when reviewing any interactions between the police and the public."
Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said her investigators will examine the incident and present a summary of their findings to the board at its next meeting on April 26.
She said she had concerns over the amount of force exerted by the police, from the use of the Taser and the baton at the beginning to the end of the struggle, when an officer kneels on Mr. Ashley.
"When the officer kneels on the guy's neck when he's on the ground, that's a problem," she said, because the deaths of subjects from "positional asphyxia" has been an issue in the past.
On the other hand, Ms. Pittinger said, Mr. Ashley did not comply with commands, shook off the effects of the Taser and, at one point 33 seconds into the video, appears to reach for the officer's baton.
"That further escalates it," she said, "and then you have the whole crowd escalating it."
She said it's too early to determine whether the officer did anything wrong, especially since investigators don't have a full review of all events that led up to the incident.
"I'm not going to second-guess him," she said.
Police said Ms. Harle was at the front of a crowd that had gathered around them, demanding to know why Mr. Ashley was being arrested and refusing to step back when she was asked, according to a criminal complaint. She then refused to leave when police said they were ejecting her and started screaming profanities. At one point, the complaint said, she "pulled herself to the ground" and tried to kick the arresting officer. She smelled of alcohol, the complaint said.
Ms. Harle was arraigned Sunday morning and released on her own recognizance. She is scheduled to go before a judge the morning of April 19 for a preliminary hearing.
First Published April 11, 2011 11:54 am