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BB gun shooting underscores tensions over drunken behavior in South Side

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
William DiBattista takes a look down Carson Street on the South Side Sunday, December 2, 2012. DiBattista recently got fed up with drunks urinating on his property, so he shot one with a BB gun. He is charged with aggravated assault and will stand trial on Dec. 10. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

Like many South Side residents, William DiBattista was fed up with drunken revelers using his property as a urinal.

Whenever he saw them, he'd yell and holler, although it rarely made a difference. The small portico leading to DiBattista's second-story apartment off East Carson Street was too easy a target to ignore.

“It doesn't have to be a holiday. It's the weekend. It's all the time,” said DiBattista, 32, who tends bar at three South Side establishments. “I shouldn't be afraid to live in my neighborhood. No one should be afraid to live in their neighborhood.”

On St. Patrick's Day, DiBattista had had enough. His actions that day landed him in trouble, charged with aggravated assault. His trial is scheduled for Dec. 10.

DiBattista grabbed his BB gun and told himself he'd shoot the next person who did not heed his warning.

That person, according to police reports, was Jayson Livingston, 40, a landscape architect from Brentwood.

DiBattista fired a few shots. The last one struck Livingston in the eyelid.

“I didn't know what happened until he turned and started walking toward me,” DiBattista said.

DiBattista brought Livingston inside, pulled the BB out of his eye and cleaned off the wound. He said they both apologized.

Police charged Livingston with urinating in public. He pleaded not guilty in May, and a judge dismissed the charge in July. Livingston declined to comment.

Although DiBattista's story is unusual, his frustration is not. Neighbors, business owners and community leaders say the party in the South Side is spiraling out of control.

“It's Drunkapalooza,” Pittsburgh councilman Bruce Kraus said. “Imagine living in your house, and every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, for every playoff game, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, Halloween, St. Patrick's Day or any other reason, goofballs are using your property as a urinal, an ashtray. I cannot in any way defend (DiBattista's) actions, but I can certainly empathize, appreciate and understand his frustration.

“Everybody is at that level of anger and angst.”

Residents say they've taken a number of steps to ward off visitors who might vandalize their property, including installing storm doors and motion-sensor lights. Others have filled outdoor flower pots with cement so they can't be destroyed.

Charles Guys, 64, installed iron bars on his first-floor windows after a man he did not know crawled into his house a few years ago. The man, who was drunk, thought he was climbing into a friend's house, Guys said.

Pittsburgh police say it's difficult to have an officer on every street in the South Side when the Flats are a relatively small part of the zone, which includes Allentown, Arlington, Beltzhoover and Knoxville.

“Usually the South Side is absorbing most of our manpower (late at night),” Zone 3 Lt. Lori McCartney said. “Unfortunately, it is escalating in violence down there.”

The city put an extra patrol unit on Carson Street to deal with the crowds leaving the bars. Off-duty officers who also work private security details had been asked to stay an hour later — until 3 a.m. — but the police union complained about a discrepancy with overtime pay. In the arrangement, bars pay the city, which then pays officers.

“The problem is most of the issues are after the bars close, and that's when the detail officers leave,” McCartney said. “It would be a huge help if they were there helping with the aftermath.”

Police charged more people with liquor law violations, public intoxication and public drunkenness through 10 months of this year than in each of the previous two years.

Officers in Zone 3 charged 56 people with liquor law violations, 288 with public intoxication, and 346 with public drunkenness in 2010, police data show. Through October this year, police charged 144 people with liquor law violations, 451 with public intoxication and 378 with public drunkenness. Police were unable to break down the crimes by neighborhood.

Cathy Mitchell, president of the South Side Community Council, a neighborhood group, said the frustration is “coming to a head.”

“I think that the residents feel there is this change that instead of just drunks, there's a thug mentality,” Mitchell said.

She said community leaders are doing their part by developing a marketing campaign telling visitors: “Don't Ruin the Party.” Bartenders and servers will wear buttons and fliers displaying that message, and leaflets will be distributed at bars and restaurants.

In April, City Council agreed to pay the Responsible Hospitality Institute $100,000 to look at ways the city can better manage nightlife. The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based consulting firm has worked with more than 50 cities, from Cleveland and State College to Los Angeles and New Orleans, to help manage nightlife.

Kraus said 160 residents have been meeting every other month with institute officials, who plan to present recommendations to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl this month.

As for DiBattista, he hopes prosecutors will allow him to plead guilty to a lesser offense.

“I was never out to hurt anybody. I took action when the police couldn't. They shouldn't have to deal with that anyway,” he said.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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