Pittsburgh woman claims arrest came for not supporting Trump
A North Side woman said a Pittsburgh police officer charged her with burglary and other crimes in 2017 because she she didn’t support Donald Trump.
Darian Balcom, 47, of Perry North, sued the city in federal court Tuesday, contending Officer Gabe Figueroa violated her First Amendment Rights.
“The essence of this is that a law enforcement officer should not be allowing his own political beliefs to influence his official duties,” said Downtown attorney Margaret Coleman, who represents Balcom. “He was there to investigate a crime. She should have been free to tell him what she thought about his behavior and the president of the United States.”
Pittsburgh Public Safety Department spokesman Chris Togneri declined comment, citing the pending lawsuit.
Balcom said the incident unfolded on Dec. 18, 2017, when the owner of a nearby apartment building asked her to feed dogs left behind in a vacant apartment. Balcom said she and friend Matthew Grebner went to the apartment and found the dogs and several cats that had been abandoned in the building.
Another neighbor called police and reported a burglary after seeing Balcom and Grebner leaving the apartment with the cats.
“The easiest thing was to take the cats to my building, so we carried them there,” Balcom said. “Five police officers showed up. Officer Figueroa asked a couple of questions that weren’t investigation related. He didn’t ask me what was going on. He did not ask me why we had removed the cats. He called me sweetheart, and I said, ‘Don’t call me sweetheart.’”
According to the lawsuit, Figueroa asked her if she supported Trump for president. When she told him no, he said he was a Trump supporter and arrested her, according to the lawsuit.
Grebner, 56, of Spring Hill, said Figueroa released him and told him while unlocking handcuffs that Balcom didn’t do anything wrong, but she shouldn’t sass a police officer.
“He said, ‘She’s just a bleeding heart liberal trying to take care of some animals, and she shouldn’t sass,’” Grebner said.
Balcom said she spent the night in Allegheny County jail and three months with “felony charges hanging over my head.” The charges were withdrawn in March 2018.
“I thought I was being very cooperative,” Balcom said. “I just wanted to answer his questions. If what I had done was a crime, (Grebner) should had been arrested as well. He and I had done the same thing.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .