Bill Peduto: Assault of black women at North Side gas station ‘made me sick’
Watching the video of two women being assaulted at a North Side gas station last week made Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto sick, he tweeted Tuesday morning.
“We cannot be a civilized society and tolerate any violence against women. We must come together as one unified community and end all violence against women. All of us,” he wrote on Twitter.
Viewing the video of two black women from our community being assaulted made me sick. We cannot be a civilized society and tolerate any violence against women.
We must come together as one unified community and end all violence against women. All of us.
— bill peduto (@billpeduto) September 24, 2019
It was the mayor’s first public comment on the incident, which happened at about 6:45 p.m. Friday at a gas station at Marshall Avenue and Brighton Road in the city’s Marshall-Shadeland neighborhood. Peduto is in New York attending the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit.
Peduto on Saturday retweeted the Pittsburgh police news release about the incident, which was caught on cellphone video that went viral and spurred three days of protests at the station.
Multiple people are facing criminal charges following a violent assault at a North Side gas station that was caught on video and went viral on social media due to its disturbing nature.
— Pittsburgh Police (@PghPolice) September 21, 2019
The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office on Monday announced simple assault charges against gas station owners Sukhjinder Sadhra, 35, of Ross, and Balkar Singh, 40, of Cheswick, and station employee Scott Hill, 50, of Perry South. Sadhra and Hill also are charged with conspiracy.
“Under no circumstances is it acceptable for anyone, regardless of gender or race, to be assaulted in the way that is depicted in the video, and such behavior will not be tolerated in Allegheny County,” Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said in a statement.
The charges are “a slap in the face to black women,” Black Political Empowerment Project CEO Tim Stevens wrote in a letter to Peduto, Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich and police Chief Scott Schubert.
The letter, released publicly on Tuesday, said “only three of the four men involved” were charged.
Criminal complaints filed against the three men charged do not mention another man being involved.
The complaints detail how Singh and Sukhjinder were called to the station because “a group of females” were upset over spilled gas.
What began as an argument “quickly became physical,” police said. Singh and Sadhra said the women attacked them when they were refused a refund for the spilled gas, according to the complaint.
Singh and Sadhra told police they were pushed and struck “multiple times,” according to the complaint.
Police said Singh had scratches on his arms, back and chest and his shirt was torn. One of the women also knocked over a shelf inside the station, according to the complaint.
The women left after the fight, but returned while police were there, the complaint said.
The women told police they sought a refund for gas that spilled when the pump malfunctioned, starting an argument over the amount of gas that spilled and whether it amounted to the $17 refund the women wanted, the complaint said.
The women said they were surrounded by the three men and one of the men pushed a woman first, prompting her to push back and a fight to ensue, according to the complaint.
Hill pushed the head of one woman into a gas pump and dragged the other woman by her hair, the women told police.
Everyone involved declined medical attention, police said.
Police reviewed surveillance camera footage from inside the station and cellphone video from a bystander during their investigation. There are no surveillance cameras in the pump area where some of the fight occurred, police said.
The charges, all second-degree misdemeanors, have “enraged many citizens of Pittsburgh,” Stevens wrote in his letter.
“The Black Political Empowerment Project and the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence join with others in viewing the decision of District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. as a slap in the face to black women and can only wonder what he would have charged if the women assaulted had been members of his family,” the letter said. “In our opinion, this situation calls out for justice. One of these women was thrown against a gas pump. If that act was not a form of reckless endangerment and aggravated assault, what would be?!?”
Assault charges in Pennsylvania use “loaded terms” that can confuse people, said Bruce Antkowiak, a professor at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe and former federal prosecutor.
Simple assault is an assault where someone caused bodily injury to another person, resulting in the impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.
An aggravated assault causes serious bodily harm, which is legally defined as an injury that causes a “substantial risk of death” or causes “serious permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment” of the function of a body part or organ. It also is tied to whether the alleged victim is an official such as a police officer or whether a deadly weapon was used, Antkowiak said.
In a case where the victim wasn’t hurt severely enough to meet the definition of “serious bodily harm,” Antkowiak said prosecutors would have to prove the intent was to cause such harm.
“I honestly think that one of the problems is you call something simple assault and a victim is looking at you saying, ‘What do you mean simple?’ ” Antkowiak said.
Reckless endangerment is used when a person “recklessly engages in conduct which places or may place another person in danger of death or serious bodily injury,” according to the state criminal code.
Stevens’ letter asked Peduto, Hissrich and Schubert to “immediately intervene to have the charges elevated to aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. The community is depending on you to do what it right.”
Stevens didn’t immediately return calls seeking further comment.
Police officials referred questions to the mayor’s office, which did not immediately respond.
The mayor’s chief of staff, Dan Gilman, also tweeted about the incident.
“We must end all violence against women,” he wrote Tuesday morning on social media. “The vicious attack against two women from our community should make every person sick to their stomach and committed to change.”
We must end all violence against women. The vicious attack against two women from our community should make every person sick to their stomach and committed to change https://t.co/a74yQkRwmP
— Daniel Gilman (@danielgilman) September 24, 2019
During a City Council meeting Tuesday, Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle also called on the DA’s office to up the charges to felony aggravated assault and sought support from other council members in writing a letter to Zappala.
At least seven other members promised to sign the letter. Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said she would support it as long as council takes other steps to bridge cultural differences in the city.
“I do believe that we should be doing something more than having conversations with the DA,” she said. “I think that we need to do some things that are more preventative. This is not the first time that this has happened in Pittsburgh … it won’t be the last time, I’m sure.”
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .