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2 men get prison time for Pittsburgh police car destruction during last year's social justice protests

A social justice demonstration in downtown Pittsburgh on May 30, 2020 following the killing of George Floyd.
An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
A social justice demonstration in downtown Pittsburgh on May 30, 2020 following the killing of George Floyd.

Two western Pennsylvania men have been sentenced to federal prison terms in the destruction of a Pittsburgh police car amid last year's protests over the murder of George Floyd.

Da’Jon Lengyel, 24, of McKees Rocks was sentenced Friday to 27 months in prison. Christopher West, 36, of Pittsburgh was ordered to serve four years. Both pleaded guilty earlier to conspiracy and obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder.

Videos showed two men identified as the defendants jumping up and down on the roof of the vehicle and joining with others to light it on fire during protests on May 30, 2020 in the downtown area. Prosecutors said the group placed cardboard and paper into the passenger compartment and one set the material afire.

West received more time than Lengyl in part because of his criminal history. Defense attorney Frank Walker argued that his client has already served his time for his past crimes, the Tribune-Review reported.

“I believe he has potential,” Walker said. “I believe he has the ability to be rehabilitated.”

Both Walker and Lengyel’s defense attorney, Marty Dietz, argued for leniency based on the time their clients have served pretrial at Allegheny County Jail, which they called hard time, especially given the lockdown conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

West, who still faces state charges over allegations that he took a news photographer's camera during the protest, acknowledged wrongdoing in a lengthy speech to the court.

“I know what I did was wrong, and I want to serve punishment for it,” West said. “It was impulsive. I followed the crowd. I should have been a leader, not a follower.”

A third defendant who previously pleaded guilty was sentenced earlier to a halfway house.

U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan noted that hundreds if not thousands were protesting that day but only a few destroyed the police car. The defendants’ actions, he said, took “away from First Amendment rights and the message meant to be conveyed by all the people there.”

The death of Floyd, a Black man, after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest last year triggered racial justice protests across the nation. The officer, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for murder.

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