Police Brutality in Pittsburgh?

Saturday night through my bedroom window I watched a young man, then a young woman be knocked around by five police officers. I called 911 to make sure they were actually cops, and was told they were. Not everything below may qualify as police brutality in Pittsburgh, but I believe some of it does.

My home is around 100 feet away from that porch, so the direct quotes I noted down were at said sufficient volume to travel to my bedroom window. Much of what the police said that night was at such a volume. The two incidents occurred between 12:20am and 1:10am in Squirrel Hill on Saturday September 4th, 2010, after a large party was broken up by the police. I tweeted most of the second incident.

The first victim was a young man, who the police believed was intoxicated underage. Here is what I saw:

  1. Two police officers shoving a young man into a corner of the patio. They were both standing and he was crouching on the cement, facing the wall. I believe they were trying to handcuff him.
  2. People standing on the sidewalk two flights of stairs below, who I believe had been in the house during the party, watching the cops rough-handle the young man. The cops yell down that they will be arrested for loitering if they do not leave.
  3. Later, the young man complains, “I can’t feel my left, right hand” because of the tightness of the handcuffs. They mock him for sounding drunk, but check to make sure the handcuffs are not too tight.
  4. The young man is now seated, with three officers standing over him. They say if they choose to arrest him, any scholarships he has will be affected and he will get in trouble with Carnegie Mellon. These are threats particularly terrifying to a young student.
  5. The officers continue to berate him, forcing him to remain seated while they stand over him, leaning into his face, yelling at him.

The police eventually unhandcuff the young man and let him go off alone, before a friend could come and get him. When that friend arrived, they offered little information as to where the student they believed was intoxicated underage had gone.

The second victim was a young woman who was being defiant, and who the police believed was intoxicated underage. Here is what I saw:

  1. The young woman said she left her ID in her room, and started heading into the house. The policewoman grabbed the young woman’s arm and yanked her several feet back onto the patio, saying “You have no ID in this house, you’re trying to run out the backdoor.”
  2. Police officers on the stoop shouted to CMU police officers who just drove up: “I’m taking 1 of your students downtown: Asian, possibly American.”
  3. Female police officer had ordered the young woman to sit, was standing over her and leaning into her face, so close their legs must have been touching. There is the sound of a slap, the female police officer walks across the porch to her colleagues. Policewoman and three other officers, walk back to the seated young woman, then lunge in at her, with their hands on her shoulders, shaking and shoving her violently, yelling “You never hit a cop! You never hit a cop!”
  4. After more questioning, the police confirm that the now scared and apologetic young woman does not have any ID on her, handcuff her, and start leading her down the steep steps, each holding an arm. After tripping once, she starts sobbing. At the bottom of the steps, she collapses. One of the officers holding her yells “Stand up or you will be tazed!
  5. Now she is crying uncontrollably and they lead her to the police car. A bystander approaches two officers and the young woman. An officer yells “Go away or you will be tazed!” I can hear her sobbing for several minutes longer.

The police took the hysterical young woman downtown for jail and fingerprinting, and offered little information to her questioning friends on my street as to when or how she could be released.

I reported both incidents to the number the 911 operator gave me to report police misconduct in Pittsburgh (1-412-255-2804) and will update if I hear anything back.

Their yelling was enough to wake me up and keep me up, and it continued for just under an hour; my housemates also reported they could hear them during that period. Patio the incidents occurred on belongs to a house that has been having large, noisy parties in our quiet neighborhood, and had one such party broken up by the police earlier in the week I believe.

I am now much less comfortable calling 911 if there is a chance the police will behave this way towards me or my fellow students.

Update: I’m playing phone tag with a representative from the Pittsburgh Municipal Office on Misconduct, and had a very supportive meeting with a CMU administration gentleman of my acquaintance.

Update: I just connected with the extremely nice gentleman from the Pittsburgh Municipal Office on Misconduct, so if you’re reading this, thanks for being kind! All of the links within this post are to the tweets I sent while observing through my window, which are all time-stamped. In case it helps, this individual post received 237 hits the day after I posted it, mostly referred by from this Reddit post. Thanks again.

Inspirational Quote:

“Justice is the tolerable accommodation of the conflicting interests of society, and I don’t believe there is any royal road to attain such accommodation concretely.”–Judge Learned Hand, in P. Hamburger,The Great Judge, 1946


  1. To be fair, in my four years in Pittsburgh I witnessed police show up just in time to stop a knife fight at a Pitt party, on another occasion they were called to a CMU frat when someone brought a gun and threatened to shoot the brothers, and a number of Pitt students, basketball players if I remember correctly, were shot and killed at a party. They have to be prepared for the worst when they arrive at any situation… but they should also be expected to use judgment once they are there.

    I had a ‘party’ broken up by police on Beeler St. From about 6pm till 9:30pm there were at most 20 people hanging out and barbecuing, during that time a group of us were playing live music on and off. A neighbor came over and politely asked us to stop playing before 10pm, which we did. At 9:30 the majority of the people left, leaving 6 or 7 of us sitting and talking with no music playing. At 11 the doorbell rang, when the owner of the house opened it 4 police busted through and pushed their way in without cause or permission. They threatened to arrest all of us and hand out a $2000 fine to the homeowner. When I tried to explain there was no party going on, and that we had been quiet for nearly two hours, the officer then threatened to arrest me for providing alcohol to underage… except everyone there WAS of age. People moved toward the door, which wasn’t enough for the police who started pushing people out and spitting more threats at us.

    In my experience, while there was no physical abuse, they verbally threatened us with false charges and blatantly broke the law by forcing entry into the house with no probably cause.

  2. I totally agree–up until this point and excepting the G20 riots, my interactions with the Police (CMU and Pittsburgh) have been courteous, civil, and competent. Which is what made this so jarring. Thank you for sharing your experience,

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