Police search North Side gas station after assault as protesters vow to continue
Protesters who camped for a second day outside of the Exxon gas station on Pittsburgh’s North Side where two sisters were beaten over a $17 dispute, expressed concern Sunday that the owners and an employee who allegedly assaulted their customers will only be charged with a misdemeanor.
The Friday assault was captured on video and shared on social media.
The sisters, who declined to provide their names, said the dispute stemmed from a pump malfunction that resulted in their gas spilling, according to Pittsburgh police. The women’s demand for a refund quickly escalated into a violent confrontation, which a bystander caught on video, police said.
The video shows the male store owners repeatedly striking one of the sisters in the back of the head and an employee grabbing the other sister by her hair and dragging her across the pavement.
“It’s a lot more than just a simple assault,” said Sharon McIntosh, who is a member of the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence.
Police said in a press release Saturday that criminal charges have been filed against the gas station owner and an employee.
It is unclear, though, what the charges in this case are.
Chris Togneri, a Pittsburgh Bureau of Police spokesman, declined to provide additional details Sunday. The police have not released the suspects’ names and won’t until the Allegheny District Attorney’s Office approves the charges, Togneri said.
As of Sunday evening, the charging documents have not been made available.
Pennsylvania law defines assault as an attempt to knowingly or recklessly cause injury.
Police could charge the Exxon owners with simple assault, which is a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, or aggravated assault, a felony.
According to a blog by criminal defense attorney Brian Manchester in Bellefonte, Centre County, mutual fights or a bar fight could be construed as a simple assault in Pennsylvania.
An aggravated assault is also an attempt to cause injury but with extreme indifference. According to Manchester’s blog, an example that could rise to the level of aggravated assault — using a bar fight scenario — is if a beer bottle is used or by taking an “individual’s head and smashing it on the ground.”
The black community reacted swiftly to the alleged assaults.
Protesters started gathering around the gas pumps early Saturday morning. They were back on Sunday, bent on seeing the gas station shuttered.
ExxonMobil does not own and operate retail gas stations, but officials on Saturday said they do not tolerate discrimination or harassment by company representatives.
Police search gas station
Police were at the gas station Saturday to ensure the safety of protesters, but on Sunday they came with a search warrant to break the padlock on metal, roll-down door to retrieve surveillance video from the store’s hard drive.
The move was met with cheers by protesters, who made a cookout of the day with hotdogs and burgers.
“You got it?” one protester shouted at police as they were leaving.
The officer responded with a thumbs-up.
Black community leaders intend to hold a press conference at the gas station at 9:30 a.m. Monday. A second meeting to discuss next steps will be held 6 p.m. Wednesday at McNaugher Middle School at 2610 Maple St.
Nicole C. Brambila is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Nicole at 724-226-7704, [email protected] or via Twitter .