ShareThis Page

Police officer: Trouble during Pride weekend began when woman hit him

| Monday, June 16, 2014, 10:03 a.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Acting Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar (left) and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto speak during a news conference on Monday, June 16, 2014, about an arrest during Sunday's Pride celebration Downtown. Standing behind Bucar and Peduto are City Councilman Dan Gilman, Council President Bruce Kraus and acting police Chief Regina McDonald.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Acting Police Chief Regina McDonald (top right) attends a news conference discussing an arrest during Sunday's Pride celebration on Monday, June 16, 2014.
Pittsburgh police charged Ariel Lawther, 19, of Harmony, with aggravated and simple assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct on Sunday, June 15, 2014. A video of Lawther’s arrest has stirred controversy because it shows a police officer punching her in the stomach. The officer says Lawther punched and kicked him when he arrived to break up a fight on a Downtown street.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Jenna Kenny, 16, of Castle Shannon recorded video of an altercation with a Pittsburgh police officer and a woman attending Pittsburgh's Pride Parade on Sunday.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Acting Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar (left) and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto speak during a news conference Monday, June 16, 2014, to discuss an arrest during Sunday's Pride celebration Downtown. Standing behind Bucar and Peduto are City Councilman Dan Gilman, Council President Bruce Kraus and acting police Chief Regina McDonald.

A Butler County woman at the center of a video showing her scuffling with a Pittsburgh police officer on Sunday during Pride events Downtown is awaiting a hearing on charges that she assaulted her mother, who wound up with a black eye.

Ariel Lawther, 19, of Harmony is ordered to appear next month to answer criminal charges that she punched her mother, Carrie Pittman, 35, of Lancaster, in November. Lawther is charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct, said Lancaster police Officer David Sitler. Her mother also was charged.

Lawther's weekend confrontation with Pittsburgh police went viral when a bystander captured a portion with video and provided it to social media.

Police charged Lawther with aggravated assault, resisting arrest and related crimes for allegedly punching and kicking Officer Souroth Chatterji in the groin. The video shows Chatterji subduing Lawther with a punch. Neither Chatterji nor Lawther could be reached for comment.

Chatterji was assigned to desk duty after the incident, which occurred on the same day Mayor Bill Peduto officiated at a wedding for 20 same-sex couples.

Lawther is free on $5,000 bond.

The Delta Foundation, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, is asking U.S. Attorney David Hickton's office for a “potential hate crime investigation.”

At a news conference, Peduto promised a thorough and fair investigation. He was joined by new Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar and other city officials.

“There are professional standards on the escalation of force, and we want to make sure what happened falls within the standards, and not rush to judgment until such time that we can see exactly what happened,” Peduto said.

The mayor said officials are seeking additional video from nearby cameras that would show the confrontation from start to end.

Jenna Kenny, 16, of Castle Shannon captured the incident on her iPhone. Her four-minute video shows an angry crowd yelling at anti-gay activists, the officer pushing Lawther away and the altercation between them. She posted it on her personal Facebook account and asked friends to share it. She called the officer's actions “over the line.”

Chatterji reported in the complaint that he was stationed at Sixth Street and Liberty Avenue about 4 p.m. when he saw a fight between Lawther and a man identified as Eric Moure, 36, of White Oak as about 50 people watched.

Moure, a self-described street preacher who was protesting the event, said Lawther shoved him. That's when Chatterji intervened, he said.

“She went berserk,” Moure said. “He was trying to place her under arrest, and she was fighting him back. She started swinging her fists. She just kept on, so he did what he had to do.”

Chatterji reported that he warned Lawther 30 minutes earlier about her behavior toward protesters after she threatened to kill them.

He wrote that Lawther and onlookers struck and kicked him numerous times as he broke up the fight.

The video shows the officer grabbing Lawther by the hair and punching her several times in the stomach. Chatterji wrote that he was forced to do so because he was being struck by onlookers and she kept fighting. He wrote that he feared for his safety.

Lawther apologized to Chatterji afterward and told him that she did not realize he was an officer, the complaint said.

“If she's punching and kicking him, he's allowed to use however much force is necessary to overcome that and make an arrest if there is a legitimate cause for it,” said David A. Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and police expert. “The question will be whether punching the woman once she's out of the crowd was necessary to meet a threat of force he was facing then. Not a minute before then, but then.”

Chatterji joined the police force on Aug. 20, 2012, and works the night shift from the Zone 4 station in Squirrel Hill. He is a military veteran, Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said.

“It appears that he was assaulted and he effected an arrest with the force that it took to make the arrest,” said Howard McQuillan, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1. “It's just a shame that his actions are being second-guessed by people who weren't in his situation.”

The Office of Municipal Investigations is handling the inquiry, Peduto said.

The Citizen's Police Review Board is investigating, Executive Director Beth Pittinger said.

“We want to assure everybody, both the public and the police, that we want fairness and we will work diligently to make sure that justice is not delayed,” Peduto said. “We will be able to proceed over the next month to find out exactly what happened and to take the proper action.”

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or Staff writer Melissa Daniels contributed to this report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.