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North Borough Communities Seek Stronger Charges Against Skinheads Who Beat Avalon Man

Protestors will march to the Avalon Borough building Tuesday.

One month after an Avalon man was assaulted in a neighborhood bar, the community is looking for answers about the authority’s handling of the racially-fueled attack.

On July 7th a group of people used racial slurs and violently beat Paul Morris, a black man, at the bar The Jackman Inn in Avalon, a few miles northwest of Pittsburgh. According to the police report, the group had tattoos and other symbols associated with the white nationalist group Keystone United, which is recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the largest and most-active skinhead crews in the country.

On Tuesday, the new activist group “Protect Us North Boros” will march from Bellevue to Avalon to put pressure on Avalon’s police department, leadership, and prosecutors who the activists say haven’t treated the situation seriously enough.

No arrests were immediately made the night of the attack, and the group was later charged with ethnic intimidation and simple assault. The community is calling on the district attorney to increase the charges from simple assault to aggravated assault, which means the assailants would face a felony rather than a misdemeanor. Pastor Paul Hassell of Redeemer North Boroughs Church says authorities need to demonstrate that what happened is unacceptable.

“Or people who are acting out violently say ‘look they’re just going to slap us on the wrist and I can take that’” said Hassell. “That’s why we have these laws to say ‘no this kind of behavior must be stopped.’”

Pennsylvania law does allow for charges to be amended by the prosecutor before the trial, according to David Harris, 90.5 WESA's legal analyst and University of Pittsburgh law professor.

“There is a large difference in potential sentences,” said Harris. “For a simple assault, most are second degree misdemeanors. The maximum possible punishment is two years in prison and a $5,000 fine,” he said. “For aggravated assault, most types are second degree felonies, carrying a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.” He added that several types of aggravated assault are first-degree felonies and can carry up to 20 years in prison.

Harris said while the penalties for aggravated assault are greater, the proof the prosecution is required to provide is also greater.

Hassell said that in his view, the incident was a clear case of aggravated assault, which according to the Pennsylvania Code requires an “indifference to the value of human life.”

“The way they treated him, the way they escalated this, their intent was to harm Paul, and it was because of the color of his skin,” said Hassell.

Protect Us North Boros is also urging the Avalon police department to engage in more implicit bias training.