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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 3:22 PM

I owe an apology to fans of 19th Ward politics — which is to say "everyone who cares about the future of this great republic of ours." Last Friday marked the first skirmish in a coming Primary Day fight between 19th Ward chair Pete Wagner and his nemesis, Anthony Coghill. And though I wrote a preview of the coming fight last week, I've yet to disclose the outcome of its opening salvos.

The box score: Team Coghill 4, Team Wagner 1. Though the game isn't over.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Members of the famed performance troupe clowned at the eatery this morning to promote their show Varekai. Pictures in Program Notes.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Three performers from the touring Cirque Du Soleil show Varekai invaded Primanti’s Brothers in the Strip District this morning to publicize the show’s upcoming performance in Pittsburgh.




There was Kamikaze, who sported a reflective blue outfit with fins on his head and back; the Guide, dressed in all black and sporting a helmet with a lightbulb ; and Skywatcher, a shirtless blonde wearing brown pants and green leaves sprouting from his waist.

Faces covered in elaborate makeup, they stepped behind the lunch counter to help the restaurant’s long-time manager, Toni Haggerty, make a pastrami sandwich. The three spoke only using short grunts (though Skywatcher did let out a “Madonna!” as he held up two Styrofoam cups to his nipples.)

On Thursday, you can see them in their element at the Petersen Events Center, where Varekai debuts at 7:30 p.m.

The show (a big-top version of which played Pittsburgh in 2007) follows a young man who falls from the sky and lands in the forest ofVarekai, a place where whimsical creatures roam. Attendees can expect to see jugglers, aerial acrobats, contortionists, and of course, clowns.

The show continues through Sunday, with a Friday performance at 7:30 p.m., Saturday performances at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday performances at 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Tickets are $32-100. Buy them here.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 9:10 PM

The Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board tonight recommended the termination of Pittsburgh police officer Jonathan Gromek for conduct it deemed "egregious" in connection with his arrest of teacher Dennis Henderson outside a community meeting last June.

On seven of eight counts of violations of bureau policy, the CPRB found Gromek's actions to be either "very serious" or "egregious." A finding of an egregious act of misconduct, under Pittsburgh's Discipline Policy Manual, can lead to a five day suspension, pending termination.

The panel found there was not enough evidence to sustain the complaint that Gromek used excessive force during the arrest, but it did find that there was enough evidence to say that Gromek violated policies concerning unbecoming conduct, conduct toward the public, operation of bureau vehicles, filing records or reports, incompetency and truthfulness.

The CPRB found that Gromek "initiated an unnecessary encounter with the Complainant and his companion, escalated the situation into a questionable arrest of the Complainant and then proceeded to knowingly file a false report of the incident to law enforcement," according to the CPRB's recommendation.

It continues: "While the panel recognizes the conduct demonstrated in this case as an exception, public perception tends to be expressed otherwise. The panel emphasizes its perspective that the restoration of trust and improved relations between the community and the Bureau of Police will not occur until professional, lawful and respectful conduct is demanded by police management and demonstrated as the norm practiced by Pittsburgh police officers."

In testimony Henderson offered Jan. 16, he described a series of events that are consistent with a federal lawsuit he filed against Gromek:

After leaving a Community Empowerment Association meeting on June 26, he walked to his car to get a business card for a journalist. The two men were standing near Henderson's car, when a police cruiser came speeding down Kelly street, almost striking them, Henderson told the review board.

The situation escalated after Henderson, in a loud voice, exclaimed "wow." Gromek made a U-turn and confronted Henderson, asking if he had a problem. Henderson asked for Gromek's name and badge number and pulled out his phone to start recording their interaction, according to Henderson's testimony.

Gromek put both men in handcuffs (though the journalist was quickly released) and Henderson was taken to Allegheny County Jail and charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway and resisting arrest (the charges were later dropped).

Gromek's police union attorney, Bryan Campbell, at the time made the case that "[Officers are] given a lot of leeway when they're out there because they have to make split-second decisions," arguing it was a fluid situation and Gromek's response was within the bounds of his authority. Gromek declined to testify.

The CPRB's recommendation that Gromek be terminated is non-binding. And it comes after after the Office of Municipal Investigations found Gromek had violated bureau policy and the city appeared to settle on a written reprimand as the appropriate punishment, drawing criticism from both the police union and ACLU.

The CPRB's findings will be sent to the mayor and police chief, who have thirty days to decide whether it will accept, reject or modify its recommendations. If the CPRB's recommendations are rejected or modified, the city is required to offer a written explanation.

CPRB executive director Elizabeth Pittinger has expressed frustration in the past with the timing of the board's recommendations, acknowledging they're less effective if the city makes a decision about whether or not to discipline an officer before the review board weighs in.

And even though the board did not have a quorum tonight — a problem that has persisted through a significant chunk of its history, Pittinger said it was able to release its findings because they were issued unanimously by a three-member panel made up of CPRB members.

"It's a pretty severe recommendation," she said, noting the board wasn't gauging its effectiveness based on whether the city adopts its recommendations. "They're expressing what they think is appropriate."

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Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 5:41 PM

Despite multiple attempts Tuesday, attorneys for the three officers accused of beating Jordan Miles in January 2010 failed to prove Miles lied in his testimony earlier this week.

The defense planned to call Miles' friend Ryan Allen to testify that Miles previously told him he had a Mountain Dew bottle in his pocket the night he says he was excessively assaulted and unjustly arrested by Pittsburgh Police officers Michael Saldutte, David Sisak and Richard Ewing (who now works as an officer in McCandless). The officers claim they mistook the Mountain Dew bottle for a weapon, and that their belief that Miles had a weapon caused their use of force against him.

However, on Monday Miles reiterated claims that he never had a Mountain Dew bottle in his pocket, even though Allen told FBI agents that Miles admitted to having the bottle. Miles said Allen lied to the FBI in an effort to get out of participating in the case.

This morning Allen — who was assigned an attorney to consult with by U.S. District Judge David Cercone — took the stand, but answered most questions by saying he couldn't remember his previous statements to the FBI.

"You don't want to be seen as a snitch," said defense attorney Robert Leight.

"I don't want to lie," Allen answered.

The defense then attempted to call FBI agent Sonia Bush to testify about her conversation with Allen. But Cercone prohibited the defense from asking Bush about the conversation saying her statement would have been hearsay.

This is the third week of the civil trial against the three officers Miles said didn't identify themselves before accosting him in January 2010 on Tioga Street in Homewood. The officers say they approached Miles because they saw him lurking on the side of a house and identified themselves before he ran from them.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 2:31 PM

This morning, Pittsburgh City Council took a vote in support of the "Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health," a sweeping package of proposed legislation that backers hope the state legislature will take up over the following months. Council urged Harrisburg to act on the agenda in a unanimous voice vote ... but legislators in the Capitol are likely to be far more divided.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 1:54 PM

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Community Supported Art PGH will begin selling member shares for its second season.

Last year, CSA PGH, which connects artists directly to art-buyers, sold out of the 50 shares showcasing six local artists in its inaugural offering.

This year, it’s expanding its roster of both shares and artists.

CSA PGH is modeled after community-supported agriculture, where farmers sell shares in the year’s bounty up front, and shareholders collect boxes of produce all season long.

This year, the group offers 50 full shares for $450 each, entitling shareholders to eventually collect small works by accomplished local artists Edith Abeyta, Cara Erskine, Alexis Gideon, Jennifer Myers, Lucia Nhamo and Barbara Weissberger. (One sign of success: The share price is up from $350 last year.)

New this year, CSA PGH is also offering 50 half-shares, at $225 each, featuring works by Dave Montano, Alisha Wormsley, and Jim Rugg with Jasen Lex.

CSA PGH is run by Casey Droege, Corey Escoto, Blaine Siegel and Kilolo Luckett, and sponsored by Fractured Atlas.

The group is not to be confused with the New Hazlett Theater’s performance-art CSA, which is in the midst of its first season producing dance, music and theatrical events on a similar shareholder model.

Both groups started last year.

For more informations about CSA PGH’s new share offering, see here.

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Posted By on Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 11:45 AM

One of the biggest pieces of legislation under consideration in City Council right now — a land bank bill — has turned into a debate over competing ideas for amendments, some of which significantly alter Council's authority over the land bank.

City Councilor Deb Gross, who introduced the legislation Jan. 14, and has acknowledged her original bill needed improvement, has released some ideas for amendments along with City Councilor Corey O'Connor (though not the exact language) on the city's website.

Gross' original proposal would create a quasi-government authority that would be responsible for centralizing the city's blighted/vacant/tax delinquent land and work with homeowners, community groups and developers to turn those properties around. The land bank, authorized under state law, can exercise a 'trump bid' at treasurer's sale (meaning the land bank can acquire property without being the highest bidder) and can expedite the title-clearing process (meaning it can resolve potential ownership conflicts more quickly).

Not surprisingly, the bill has generated lots of debate: Who should serve on the land bank's board of directors? Should City Council have a vote on the final use of individual properties? How should community groups or individual neighbors be included in the process?

And those are some of the issues that prompted city councilors Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess to release their own set of amendments earlier this month that, among other things, would expand the board of directors to include "community-based organizations" and would require unanimous council approval anytime the land bank wants to turn over a property it has acquired.

Gross and O'Connor have responded with their own ideas for amendments that would also expand the board to include community members, but would not give council authority over the disposition of its land.

City Paper invited city councilors Gross, O'Connor, Burgess and Lavelle for a roundtable discussion last Friday to chat about these issues and that will appear on our website — and on newsstands — tomorrow.

For now, though, here are some of the highlights of Gross/O'Connor's ideas for amendments (after the jump).

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Posted By on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 5:41 PM

A friend of Jordan Miles was scheduled to testify Monday that Miles told him that he did have a soda bottle in his pocket the night he was confronted and beaten by three plain clothes police officers in January 2010.

But plans to call Ryan Allen hit a snag when Miles testified Monday morning that Allen admitted to lying to FBI agents about the conversation so he wouldn't have to participate in the case any longer. Allen allegedly told the FBI that Miles told him the police officers found a Mountain Dew bottle in his pocket. Because lying to law enforcement in a statement is a crime, a defense attorney was called in to represent Allen and advise him of his 5th amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Allen was not called to testify today but could be first to take the stand tomorrow.

Miles brought the civil lawsuit against officers Michael Saldutte, Richard Ewing, and David Sisak over an altercation on Tioga Street in Homewood in January 2010. Miles claims the officers never identified themselves as cops and excessively assaulted and unjustly arrested him. The officers say they approached Miles because he was acting suspiciously around the side of a home and they believed he had a gun, which turned out to be a Mountain Dew bottle. However, Miles says he never even had a bottle, a claim the officers were trying to dispute with Allen's testimony.

Miles finished his testimony Monday morning and his attorneys rested their case this afternoon. The defense case began with an opening statement by Ewing's attorney Robert Leight, who said this case isn't about guns, race, or excessive force.

"What this case is about is what a reasonably objective police officer would do," Leight told jurors.

To that end, the defense called David Wright, a 20-year veteran officer as its first witness. Wright works at the police training academy as a use-of-force instructor. He explained the police's "plus one" rule where an officer can use force at a level above the force being used by a suspect.

"Arrest is not a sport," Wright said. "It's not an area where an officer can afford to lose."

The defense also called officer Darren Fedorski, who was one of two officers called to the scene to transport Miles to jail on the night of the incident. Fedorski said the three officers didn't appear injured when he arrived at the scene and that they didn't mention Miles having a gun.

Fedorski also testified about his interaction with Miles at the hospital before he was taken to jail.

"He said he was glad it was police that he fought with," Fedorski said. "Because if it was gang bangers he would've been shot."

Posted By on Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 4:51 PM

Father Flamethrower
  • Father Flamethrower

Now that you've learned who's playing the Arts Festival and you've also had sufficient time to vent about how angry you are about that, on to the pressing matters of the day, like, who will be our MP3 Monday artist?

The wait is over! It's Father Flamethrower!

The punk band is releasing its self-titled debut with a show Saturday night, March 29, at the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern (with an assist from Polish Hill Strangler). We're giving you a sample off of the album — here's "Bear Bait":

Father Flamethrower: "Bear Bait"

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