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DA to reduce charges against brothers in fight

| Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 10:22 p.m.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala plans to reduce the charges against two Homewood brothers accused of fighting with police officers because a video of the incident shows a different story, his spokesman said on Friday.

“The changes reflect what we believe happened,” said spokesman Mike Manko. He declined further comment.

Pittsburgh police charged brothers Will El, 22, and Beyshaud El, 19, with aggravated assault against an officer for allegedly fighting with two officers on July 2 outside a convenience store at Fletcher and Fielding ways in Homewood. An officer had stopped them to request identification to determine whether they were old enough to buy the tobacco products they had just purchased at the store, police said at the time.

In a letter dated Feb. 11 to acting police Chief Regina McDonald, Public Safety Director Michael Huss, U.S. Attorney David Hickton and attorneys representing the brothers, Zappala said he reviewed a video taken from the dashboard camera of a nearby police car and had some concerns with how it contradicted the officers' accounts.

His office will reduce the charge against Beyshaud El to harassment and drop the charge against Will El.

McDonald did not return calls and Zone 5 Cmdr. Timothy O'Connor declined comment. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office acknowledged receipt of Zappala's letter but declined comment.

In a letter, Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, a civil rights organization, told Zappala and local public safety officials, “This is not ‘the American way.' This is not the manner in which we want our Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to operate.”

The video shows the brothers sitting on the steps of a building while three Zone 5 officers stand nearby. Officer Frank Welling is seen putting on black gloves and then slamming Will El against a wall. Beyshaud El stands up and another officer uses a Taser on him until he's unconscious.

In July, Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said the officers' use of force was “triggered by the aggressive actions of the actors, one who disregarded the instructions to remain seated, for officer and public safety reasons, and the other who subsequently physically attacked an officer who attempted to return his brother to a seated position.”

The brothers were released the day after their arrest without bond. Beyshaud El is scheduled to stand trial March 5 on the harassment charge.

“Those two kids were just walking down the street out of the store when the police came up on them,” said M. Celeste Whiteford Robertson, a Downtown attorney who represents Beyshaud El. “They didn't do anything wrong, and this happened to them.”

Earlier this month, police arrested their mother, Medina El, 39, an Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families caseworker, for possessing drugs and carrying a gun without a license.

A judge on Friday reduced her bail to zero from $100,000 when her attorney, Sumner L. Parker, produced documents showing she had a license to carry the gun. She was suspended from her job without pay. No one from the El family could be reached on Friday.

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

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