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City Of Pittsburgh Approves Settlement In Police Excessive Force Case

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council approved granting $77,500 to Gabriel Despres on Tuesday, a payment to settle a federal lawsuit Despres filed after former police Sgt. Stephen Matakovich beat him in 2015. Matakovich is serving a 27-month prison sentence as a result of the incident outside Heinz Field.
Despres was 19 years old and intoxicated at the time, and Matakovich could be seen on surveillance cameras pushing and hitting Despres during the altercation. 

Talking with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Bill Peduto said he thinks that in recent years, police leaders have sent the message that the city will not “look the other way when something is done that is not correct.”

“We will hold all of our officers to the highest of standards, as we work to create a police bureau of that same type of integrity,” he said. He said the number of officers using force has declined since he took office in 2014, with fewer high-profile cases like that of Leon Ford, who was shot and paralyzed by a Pittsburgh police officer during a traffic stop in 2012.

“I do believe that within the police bureau there is a much greater scale of accountability with this command staff that is in place than we’ve seen in the past,” he said.

The shooting death of Antown Rose last summer, while it took place at the hands of a suburban officer in East Pittsburgh, is a more recent and controversial use of force. On Tuesday, Peduto hailed the efforts of a group of Democratic state officials to change the law governing the use of deadly force.

Members of the Legislative Black Caucus -- including Allegheny County state Reps. Austin Davis, Ed Gainey, Summer Lee, and Jake Wheatley --  outlined a legislative agenda that would also include appointing special prosecutors to investigate police shootings. Another proposal would limit the power of arbitrators in police discipline matters.

Peduto said he'd met with those officals to discuss the reforms. 

“We’ve been working with them on some legislation that will affect directly the use of force in police incidents,” he said. “We know for a fact that the law is the law, but that does not mean that it is just. I believe that what state officials are looking to do is create a more just law.”

Peduto said he hopes that the community -- not just activists and political leaders, but pastors, corporate leaders and residents as well -- will support passing the reforms.

Associated Press contributed to this report.