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Duquesne University student who tried to burn flag near Trump supporters takes plea deal

| Friday, April 21, 2017

A Duquesne University graduate student who last year scuffled with Donald Trump supporters while trying to burn an American flag in Downtown Pittsburgh pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office dropped more serious counts filed against Joshua Sturman, 23, in return for his guilty plea to the summary offense.

Sturman, who is originally from California, had faced charges of risking a catastrophe, a felony, and misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment, simple assault and disorderly conduct.

“The plea was an appropriate resolution given the facts of the case,” said Mike Manko, spokesman for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Richard Dillon of Ross, one of the Trump supporters who was Downtown when the incident occurred, disagreed. Appearing at a hearing before Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Randall Todd, Dillon criticized the plea deal, saying Sturman should have been held to the felony.

“This was a terrorist attack,” he said of Sturman's actions.

Sturman and his attorney, Paul Boas, declined to comment after the hearing.

Pittsburgh police charged Sturman on July 30 , the day that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visited Pittsburgh to appear at a campaign rally in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Police said Sturman, wearing a red bandanna over his face and carrying an American flag, approached a group of Trump supporters protesting Clinton's visit. A struggle started when several of the protestors, including Dillon, attempted to stop Sturman from setting the flag ablaze, according to police.

It is not illegal to burn an American flag.

Dillon, 68, said he grabbed the flag, fearing for the safety of protesters. He said Sturman assaulted him and snatched a Trump campaign “Make America Great Again” ball cap he was wearing. Dillon wore the same cap, which he said is signed by Vice President Mike Pence, to the hearing.

Boas told Todd that Sturman is scheduled to graduate this year from Duquesne with a master's degree. He has a 3.8 grade-point average, has served as an intern with the Thomas Merton Center and does volunteer work in the city, Boas said.

Todd sentenced Sturman to three months' probation.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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