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Westmoreland

Rostraver chief doesn't condone off-duty armed officer at rally

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, March 26, 2018, 12:34 p.m.
Demonstrator Carl DiPietro (left) holds a sign during a March for Our Lives rally protesting gun violence Friday, March 23, 2018 while Martin Palla, of Rostraver, stands nearby with a rifle on Main Street in Greensburg. Palla is a Rostraver police officer.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Demonstrator Carl DiPietro (left) holds a sign during a March for Our Lives rally protesting gun violence Friday, March 23, 2018 while Martin Palla, of Rostraver, stands nearby with a rifle on Main Street in Greensburg. Palla is a Rostraver police officer.
An unidentified man carries an AR-15 rifle during the March For Our Lives rally in Downtown Pittsburgh's Market Square on Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
An unidentified man carries an AR-15 rifle during the March For Our Lives rally in Downtown Pittsburgh's Market Square on Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Martin Palla, of Rostraver, gives a command to his seven year-old labrador retriever, Mossberg, while standing on Main Street during a March for Our Lives rally that was across the street protesting gun violence Friday, March 23, 2018 in front of the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg. Palla is a Rostraver police officer.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Martin Palla, of Rostraver, gives a command to his seven year-old labrador retriever, Mossberg, while standing on Main Street during a March for Our Lives rally that was across the street protesting gun violence Friday, March 23, 2018 in front of the Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg. Palla is a Rostraver police officer.

Rostraver police Officer Martin Palla had a right to stand armed with an AR-15, while off-duty, across the street from a March for Our Lives rally in Greensburg, his chief said Monday.

Still, police Chief Greg Resetar was not thrilled with Palla's decision to show up as a counter-protester with a weapon.

"In my capacity as chief, I cannot condone and do not condone the actions of Officer Palla," Resetar told the Tribune-Review.

Palla told a Trib reporter during the rally on Friday that he was carrying an unloaded Colt AR-15. He stood across the street from the rally at the Westmore­land County Courthouse with his Labrador retriever.

"I believe that both sides of this debate have a common goal, and that's the safety of our students," Palla said at the time, adding "I don't know if there's an overall solution. You can't legislate crazy."

Pennsylvania is an open carry state, meaning a person is allowed to openly display a firearm in public in most municipalities. Philadelphia requires a permit for open carry within the city limits.

However, Resetar said, residents are required to have a permit to transport certain firearms in a vehicle.

"Being a police officer does not take away (Palla's) civil rights," Resetar said. "He has a right to protest. But this does not imply the department approved it, and it does not reflect the opinion of individual officers."

The chief said Palla, an eight-year veteran, remains on the job while a departmental inquiry is under way. He said he learned about Palla's counter-protest Friday evening.

"We need to make a determination as to whether the officer may have violated any civil service rules or collective bargaining agreement," he said. "We need to know how he transported the weapon. All of those issues have to be reviewed."

Palla was not alone in his armed counter-protest.

A man who refused to reveal his identity to a Trib photographer stood at the edge of Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh during a March for Our Lives rally that drew thousands.

"This person is demonstrating under the 'open carry' law," said Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Alicia George. "As depicted in your photo, police officers were on hand to keep the march peaceful and free of confrontation."

Similar counter-protests played out across the country Saturday during March for Our Lives rallies.

In Idaho Falls, a pair of counter-protesters openly carried AR-15 rifles. Open carry is legal in Idaho.

Thousands gathered at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Saturday, calling for gun-control laws. The rally drew a few dozen counter-protesters , some carrying AR-15s and other weapons and others waving signs in support of the Second Amendment.

Hours after a rally in Lansing, Mich., a second rally organized by 111% United Patriots of Michigan took place on the same Capitol steps in support of the Second Amendment and Constitutional enforcement.

Several speakers, including state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, a Republican candidate for governor, joined them.

"If we do not assert our rights," he told the crowd, "we will lose them."

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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