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Protesters Call On DA To Pursue Harsher Penalties For Men Charged In Violent Assault At Gas Station

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA

Dozens of protesters gathered at the Brighton Road Exxon gas station on the North Side Monday morning to demand justice for two black women, after they were assaulted there Friday night.

But another day of protest seemed in store by day's end, when District Attorney Stephen Zappala's office announced that three men accused of being involved in the altercation were being charged with misdemeanor offenses -- charges far less serious than protesters had sought.

(This story has been updated with new information about charges filed as a result of the incident.)

According to the Department of Public Safety, officers responded to a report of a fight between two men who owned the gas station and two female customers at 6:45 p.m. Friday. A release from the department said the altercation began after the customers said a gas pump malfunctioned and demanded a refund over the spilled gas. The gas station owners denied the refund, which led to an argument that became violent.

Videos from bystanders show one woman being struck in the back of the head multiple times and thrown against the gas pump. The other woman was dragged across the pavement and hit multiple times.

Early Monday evening, a spokesman for Zappala said simple assault charges would be filed against three men allegedly involved: Scott Hill, Sukhjinder Sadhra, and Balkar Singh. 

"Under no circumstances is it acceptable for anyone, regardless of gender or race, to be assaulted in the way that is depicted in the video and such behavior will not be tolerated in Allegheny County," said spokesman Mike Manko.

But the charges are unlikely to satisfy protesters, many of whom said Monday morning that they would protest Zappala if more serious charges -- like aggravated assault, a felony -- weren't proffered. A community meeting has also been scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Northside Partnership Project, located at 2610 Maple Avenue.

“If Zappala does not answer the call, we will be down at Allegheny County Courthouse in his office,” said protester Annette Gant. “We want them taken in handcuffs.”

The Black Political Empowerment Project sent Zappala a letter demanding more severe charges against the alleged attackers, according to B-PEP Chairman Tim Stevens, who read from the letter Monday morning.

“This type of treatment of African Americans, and particularly African-American women at the hands of men, is totally unacceptable and that such acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Stevens said. “I ask that you move expeditiously to prosecute these two individuals.”

“I really hope they shut [the gas station] down or at least get new management,” said Sarah Ellis of Marshall-Shadeland, whose daughter works with one of the victims. On Monday, she was among the gas station protesters, many of whom held signs with messages like “Black Women Matter” and demanded safety and justice for black women. “I don’t feel any human being deserves to be treated like that.”

“My family is hurt over this, the girls are hurting now,” said Annette Regan, the victims’ cousin. “They’re all swelled up, they can barely move around.”

Over the weekend, Pittsburgh Police said they had filed paperwork to charge the station owners and an employee with simple assault. Manko said that after the DA's office received the original police filing, it asked for more video footage and other information. After reviewing the footage from inside the station Monday, he said, "it was agreed that the [misdemeanor] charges are appropriate."

Lucy Perkins is an editor and also reports on federal government and elections for the Government and Accountability team. Before joining the WESA newsroom, she was an NPR producer in Washington, D.C., working on news programs like All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. You can reach her at lperkins@wesa.fm.