On Aug. 15, plainclothes officers in an unmarked vehicle arrested Matthew Cartier, a protest marshal, during a peaceful protest outside of Oakland’s Barco Law Building.
Although the arrest occurred on the Oakland campus, only Pittsburgh Police, not University of Pittsburgh Police, were involved.
At the time of his arrest, Cartier was participating in a peaceful Black Lives Matter march of approximately 150 people. The march was organized by Black, Young, and Educated (B.Y.E), a group of youth activists from Pittsburgh, as part of their “Civil Saturdays” protests.
In a video posted on Twitter, multiple plainclothes officers outfitted with rifles are shown picking up Cartier’s belongings after putting him into an unmarked white van. Afterwards, they get into the van and unmarked black sedan and drive off.
In the video, people can be heard screaming “we need help” and “they just black-bagged a dude.”
According to a criminal complaint by Pittsburgh Police, he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, failure to disperse, and obstructing highways or other public passages.
Police allege residents told them Cartier was blocking an intersection and startled multiple drivers when interacting with them, “causing annoyance and inconvenience to the entire neighborhood.”
According to the complaint, Pittsburgh Police said they told him to leave the intersection and stop blocking intersections, but he refused after being asked twice and was arrested by officer Mark D. Stuart.
In a statement on Twitter, Cartier said this was not the case, and officers did not tell him to leave the intersection before arresting him.
“Pittsburgh Police approached the bike perimeter in an unmarked van and lured me closer by pretending to need directions around the march,” he said. “When I approached the van to provide directions the passenger grabbed me and multiple other men sprang out of the back of the van heavily armed to arrest me.”
He also tweeted, “I protest because Black Lives Matter. What happened to me has no doubt happened to Black Pittsburghers without similar amounts of outcry,” after the arrest.
Joshua Trapp, who uploaded the video of plainclothes officers to Twitter, told Pittsburgh’s Action News 4 he witnessed the officers hitting Cartier in the face and dragging him to the ground.
Pittsburgh Police said they chose to conduct the arrest in an unmarked vehicle driven by plainclothes officers because they wanted it to be “low visibility” to avoid escalating tension between police and protesters.
On the evening of Cartier’s arrest, Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted, “[constitutional rights] have restrictions. The right to assemble is a guaranteed right, the right to shut down public streets, is a privilege. That privilege is sanctioned by laws and codes.”
Peduto said Pittsburgh’s “laws and codes” were developed in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Citizen Police Review Board (CPRB).
However, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Witold Walczak, said officers were “in clear violation of their own guidelines” and “the ACLU of Pennsylvania has never suggested that the snatch-and-stash arrest of a peaceful demonstrator is ever acceptable.”
Peduto also told KDKA “our officers have reached out to [B.Y.E] to have meetings to sit down and try to find common ground. They have refused. Our task force for police reform has invited them to the table to add their voice.”
Police also said B.Y.E did not communicate protest routes with them, which Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said “is putting protesters in danger.”
B.Y.E said Peduto never attended a protest nor reached out to their organization and Pittsburgh Public Safety had not contacted them since June.
Later, in a statement on Aug. 17, Peduto said he “will never tolerate these tactics being used at peaceful protests again.”
Attorney Lisa Middleman is representing Cartier and has called for his charges to be dropped.
“I am disturbed by leadership’s failure to admit the errors in judgement and tactics that are designed to have a chilling effect on the exercise of civil liberties and constitutional rights,” Middleman said in a statement on Twitter.
In a statement, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said the arrest should have been handled by summons, similar to a traffic ticket, not by arrest or a criminal complaint.
Multiple other public officials also spoke out against Pittsburgh Police’s handling of the arrest.
Rep. Summer Lee tweeted “this is a kidnapping” in response.
Pittsburgh City Council member Erika Strassburger asked, “why the unmarked vehicle with heavily armed police?”
Corey O’Connor, another council member, said “peaceful protesters are being abducted.”
Magisterial District Judge Mik Pappas tweeted “where’s the threat?” and said the issue should’ve been handled via summons as well.
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said, “the police play a key role in maintaining safety, and must ensure they use tactics that respect and protect the rights of those who are exercising their freedom to speak out,” after hearing of the arrest.
Cartier’s case is ongoing.
Students who need support after protesting or witnessing traumatic events from protests can contact the Counseling Center at 724-836-9917, or via email at GbgCounseling@pitt.edu, to make a counseling appointment. The Counseling Center is offering virtual services during COVID-19, and students can schedule video and phone appointments.