The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board meeting was cut short Thursday after two people were removed by sheriff’s deputies and cited for disrupting the meeting.
Ciora Thomas, executive director of the Pittsburgh-based advocacy group SisTersPGH and Christian Carter, a community organizer from East Liberty, were both led out of the meeting after several members of the public gathered for the meeting, held in the Allegheny County Courthouse Gold Room, shouted questions at the board.
“We’ve tried to do the internal thing, the local thing, but it seems to not be working,” said Thomas, who also sits on Gov. Tom Wolf’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.
Thomas said she’ll be bringing her concerns about abuse and mistreatment of inmates at the Allegheny County Jail to the attention of the state commission.
“We have to keep holding these things to light,” Thomas said, adding that she is also calling on County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s office to address concerns about the jail.
A representative from Fitzgerald’s office sits on the jail oversight board.
A request for comment to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s office was not immediately returned.
The chaotic scene unfolded about 25 minutes into the meeting, with some members of the public shouting questions to the oversight board as reports were delivered by jail staff.
Public comment was not held at the beginning of the meeting, as outlined in the meeting agenda. Officials did not explain why public comment did not occur as planned.
There were at one time 12 sheriff’s deputies present at Thursday’s meeting. The situation became tense when they intervened.
As they attempted to remove Carter and Thomas from the meeting, other activists and members of the public demanded to know where Carter and Thomas would be taken and if they were under arrest.
The meeting came to a halt as members of the public spilled into the hallway.
Carter later said he had been cited for disorderly conduct and interrupting an arrest.
“It just feels like we’re not being heard,” Carter said.
He’d like to see the format of jail oversight board meetings changed to make it easier for the public — especially those who have been incarcerated — to participate, ask questions and to share their experiences.
“It needs to be more accessible,” he said. “There needs to be more community members on the board.”
Jail Oversight Board Chairman Judge David Cashman walked out of the meeting without officially adjourning after about 45 minutes.
Other board members trickled out a rear entrance to the Gold Room as members of the public were asked by sheriff’s deputies to leave the building.
“There is apparently a large group of people who are dissatisfied with the operation of the jail oversight board and don’t have a great deal of confidence in that it’s going to listen to their complaints and follow up on them,” said Brad Korinski, chief legal counsel with the Allegheny County Controller’s Office. He attends jail oversight board meetings on behalf of County Controller Chelsa Wagner, who sits on the board. “I think it would be incumbent upon the oversight board at the coming meetings to form a committee and investigate these complaints and make a factual presentation as I believe the board hasn’t in the past.”