Private criminal complaint filed against Bill Peduto, officials over gun bills |

Private criminal complaint filed against Bill Peduto, officials over gun bills

Bob Bauder
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Val Finnell, of Kennedy Township, voices his opposition to proposed Pittsburgh gun legislation during a public hearing in the City-County Building on Jan. 24, 2019.

A Kennedy Township man filed a private criminal complaint Wednesday against Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, seven members of City Council and the city solicitor over a proposed gun ban, but the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office says it contains no grounds for prosecution.

Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., confirmed the office received a complaint, but noted that political discussion does not constitute a crime.

“At this time there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone with an offense,” Manko said. “Neither the United States Constitution nor the Pennsylvania Constitution criminalize the exercise of a public discussion or public debate of an issue. Clearly the framers of either Constitution would not condone the criminal prosecution of anyone discussing changing laws. It only becomes a crime, when a person’s actions are contrary to established law.”

Val Finnell, 51, filed the complaint and said others would follow his lead, alleging the city officials displayed criminal intent by proposing a ban on certain automatic weapons and firearms accessories. He cited Pennsylvania’s preemption statute, which prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms.

He said it also charges them with official oppression and posting illegal signs outside of the City-County Building in Downtown. The signs warn visitors they are not permitted to bring guns into the building.

In addition to Peduto, the complaint names city Solicitor Yvonne S. Hilton and council members who have signed on as sponsors of the legislation, including Bruce Kraus, Corey O’Connor, Erika Strassburger, Anthony Coghill, R. Daniel Lavelle, Ricky Burgess and Deb Gross. The remaining two members — Theresa Kail-Smith and Darlene Harris — were not charged because they did not sign on as sponsors, Finnell said.

Council has yet to vote on the legislation. Finnell said he filed the charges because their actions indicate they intend to break the law.

“You don’t have to wait for a bank robber to rob a bank before you can stop them from robbing the bank,” he said. “Their actions show criminal intent.”

Peduto and council proposed the legislation following the Oct. 27 mass shooting that killed 11 worshipers inside Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.

Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said the elected officials have a right to challenge the law.

“Legal threats like these are one reason why the country has failed to address the gun violence epidemic,” he said. “That has to change, and it has to be now.”

O’Connor, of Swisshelm Park, who sponsored the legislation with Strassburger, of Squirrel Hill, was unfazed by the complaint.

“The DA said there’s no real standing to file the complaint,” O’Connor said. “We’re moving forward with the legislation.”

According to the DA’s website, residents are permitted to file a private criminal complaint if police decline to file. An assistant district attorney must first approve the complaint before it can move into court. If approved, the charges would proceed in the same fashion as those filed by police.

Finnell said he did not consult with Pittsburgh police. He claimed he didn’t need to do that before filing.

“I asked the DA this question, and he said they definitely could be filed,” he said.

Finnell, a member of Firearm Owners Against Crime, has been an outspoken critic of the city’s gun legislation. Last week, he was among dozens of people who testified in opposition to the legislation during a public hearing hosted by city council.

A Mt. Washington woman on Monday attempted to file paperwork with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas calling for Peduto’s impeachment, but was turned away when she lacked the money for court filing fees.

Peduto on Wednesday said only the state government could impeach a public official. He added that elected officials have legislative immunity.

“We’re allowed to challenge laws,” the mayor said. “That is how things get changed. Even with the Second Amendment there are regulations that can be placed upon it.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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