Race not a factor in Pittsburgh gas station dispute, lawyer for 2 charged says
The race and gender of the people involved in a Sept. 20 fight at an Exxon station in Marshall-Shadeland is not a factor in the case, the attorney for two of the three men charged in it said Thursday.
“My clients are not racists,” attorney David A. Shrager said. “They had no racial animus toward these people in any way shape or form, and they just feel terrible that people think this was based on some way, shape or form on racial discrimination.”
The incident has sparked protests at the gas station, outcry from African-American activists, and calls from elected officials for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. to seek charges more serious than the misdemeanors the men are facing.
Zappala has said the evidence doesn’t support aggravated assault charges, and Shrager agreed.
“I certainly understand why people might emotionally feel that way,” Shrager said about the public outcry for stronger charges. “Aggravated assault is a very serious charge that involves certain elements of crime. Those elements have not been met in this case.”
It was a dispute over $17 worth of spilled gasoline that escalated into the disturbing scene captured on a bystander’s cellphone in a video that’s gone viral and has nearly 100,000 views on YouTube.
Shrager didn’t dispute his clients’ involvement in the fray during a Thursday news conference, but said there is more to the dispute than what was shared on the bystander’s video.
Other surveillance video of the incident was released Thursday by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
It depicts one of the women entering the store and knocking over a display of bananas and then sweeping other items in one of the aisles onto the floor. The men appear and chaos ensues as the other woman also enters the view of the camera. One of the women appears to be dragged outside.
Shrager didn’t offer a defense for the actions of his clients, Sukhjinder “Simon” Sadhra, 35, of Ross and Balkar “Bill” Singh, 40, of Harmar. Sadhra is facing two counts of misdemeanor simple assault and Singh faces a single simple assault charge.
Another gas station employee Scott Hill, 50, of Pittsburgh’s Perry South neighborhood, also is charged with two counts of simple assault. Hill couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, and he didn’t have an attorney listed in court records.
The women are black. Shrager’s clients are Indian. Hill is white.
Shrager clarified that his clients do not own that station and are suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case. In the criminal complaint charging them, they are described as the owners.
The station is owned by 2501 Brighton Ave. Pittsburgh LLC. The people behind that group couldn’t be determined. It is an ExxonMobil franchise and has been closed since shortly after the fight Friday.
Singh and Sadhra are ethnic and religious minorities and know the sting of prejudice, Shrager said.
“They would never exploit that or harm someone for that. That’s not in their nature,” Shrager said.
The gender of the people involved also isn’t relevant to the case, he said.
“I oppose violence against people of any gender or gender-neutral people. We shouldn’t use violence to solve problems whether you’re a man or a women or a trans person. It should not be the case,” Shrager said. “Clearly, this was a dispute over $17 that got majorly out of hand.”
It needs to be resolved in court and not by the public or political leaders, he said.
Although people have a right to protest, they should do so peacefully, Shrager said. His clients have received death threats because of the case, he said, without going into details.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .