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Westmoreland

Pro-gun rally planned to support Rostraver police officer Martin Palla

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, April 2, 2018, 3:27 p.m.
Demonstrator Carl DiPietro (left) holds a sign during a March for Our Lives rally protesting gun violence Friday, March 23, 2018 while Martin Palla, of Rostraver, stands nearby with a rifle on Main Street in Greensburg. Palla is a Rostraver police officer.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Demonstrator Carl DiPietro (left) holds a sign during a March for Our Lives rally protesting gun violence Friday, March 23, 2018 while Martin Palla, of Rostraver, stands nearby with a rifle on Main Street in Greensburg. Palla is a Rostraver police officer.

Brett Seroka doesn't know Rostraver police officer Martin Palla, but he's organizing a pro-gun rally to honor him this month at the Westmoreland County Courthouse.

Rostraver police are investigating an incident in which Palla, then off-duty, stood across the street from a March For Our Lives rally in Greensburg on March 23 with an AR-15 rifle over his shoulder.

Rostraver police Chief Greg Resetar said he did not condone Palla's actions, and many accused Palla of trying to intimidate those gathered at a peaceful rally.

Seroka said he wanted to show Palla that he has plenty of supporters. He applied for permits to hold the rally from 3 to 7 p.m. April 22 at the courthouse in Greensburg, which is where the March For Our Lives rally occurred.

“He did nothing wrong,” Seroka told the Tribune-Review on Monday. “He has the freedom to do that. He's getting a lot of bad publicity for exercising his right to open carry.”

Seroka, who lives in Fayette County's Washington Township, created a Facebook event titled, “Rally To Support Officer Palla And Our 1st And 2nd Amendment.”

As of Monday afternoon, 866 people responded they were interested in the rally.

Pennsylvania is an open-carry state, meaning a person is allowed to openly display a firearm in public in most municipalities. Philadelphia requires a permit to openly carry a firearm within city limits.

The chief said last week that Palla, an eight-year veteran, remains on the job while a departmental inquiry is under way. He declined Monday to provide an update on the inquiry and declined to comment on the upcoming rally.

Palla told a Trib reporter during the March 23 rally that he was carrying an unloaded Colt AR-15. He stood across Main Street from the rally with his Labrador retriever.

“I believe that both sides of this debate have a common goal, and that's the safety of our students,” Palla said at the time. “I don't know if there's an overall solution. You can't legislate crazy.”

Marti Haykin of Greensburg attended the March 23 rally and was disturbed by the sight of Palla.

“Furthering the divide is not helping,” she said. “It was threatening behavior. As it was, we had no way of telling him from a good guy with a gun from a nut. He didn't talk to us. He didn't say who he was representing. Don't just stand there showing off your gun.”

Seroka, a security guard at Monongahela Valley Hospital, said he does not own a weapon but supports the Second Amendment. He said he did not expect Palla to attend, but mutual friends have informed the officer about the rally.

“This is a pro-gun rally, and I know a lot of people want to open carry,” he said. “Somebody needs to stand up for officer Palla.”

Haykin, who has two children in elementary school, said she would like to see proposals and rallies for common ground.

“I want my children to be safe. I am not trying to silence other people,” she said. “I'm not trying to take away their rights. Let's stop being so adversarial and work on solutions.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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