Officer investigated for forceful gay pride arrest
By Joe Mandak
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A police officer was put on desk duty after video surfaced showing him punching a woman at the city's gay pride parade and festival.
The officer, Souroth Chatterji, will remain on restricted duty for a month during an internal investigation, Mayor Bill Peduto said Monday.
Chatterji said in a criminal complaint that he was trying to break up a fight when he grabbed the woman by the head and punched her in the side so he could handcuff her. The officer said the woman, Ariel Lawther, 22, of Harmony, fought with him and kicked him in the groin, resulting in charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest.
She also was charged with simple assault for allegedly attacking a man the mayor said was with a group of people opposing the parade. Peduto said the episode began with "comments from some of the folks who had gathered to oppose the parade."
Online court records don't list an attorney for Lawther. She doesn't have a listed telephone number and didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on her Facebook page, where a friend posted the brief video.
The Delta Foundation, a local group that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, asked police to investigate the officer's actions.
Peduto said the city's Office of Municipal Investigations, which reviews cases in which citizens accuse police of misconduct, is probing the encounter.
Police also were trying to find additional video that might shed light on what preceded the arrest, Peduto said.
The video, which depicts less than 10 seconds of the confrontation, appears to show the officer pulling Lawther by the hair and punching her in the side. In his complaint, Chatterji acknowledged he "grabbed Lawther by the head and swung her out of the crowd" and that he later punched her "in the left abdomen several times to distract her enough so I could handcuff her."
The mayor declined to say whether he believed the officer used excessive force, saying all he had seen was the brief video clip.
"I want to remain fair both to the officers and to the public. We will not delay this investigation, but I will not make any judgment until such time that OMI has had the opportunity to fully investigate," Peduto said.
The Office of Municipal Investigations makes nonbinding recommendations for discipline, up to and including termination.
The president of the police union did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the officer's behalf.
The officer said in his criminal complaint that Lawther apologized to him afterward saying, "I'm sorry I did not see you were a cop. I'm sorry I hit you." The officer had warned Lawther "not to be so physically offensive towards the demonstrators because she was clenching her fist and stating `I'll (expletive) kill you'" before she punched one of them, the complaint said.
Lawther told police she didn't need medical help and the man she allegedly punched didn't wish to press charges, the complaint said.