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WESA Daily Briefing: June 8, 2020

Erin Keane Scott
90.5 WESA

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.


6:10 p.m. - Playgrounds, basketball courts and ballfields will reopen soon

The City of Pittsburgh said in a release that public recreation facilities, including spray parks and basketball courts, will soon reopen. Organized sports will also be permitted to resume, as long as organizers follow safety guidelines. Such spaces have been closed and sports suspended since mid-March, when Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Block party and special event permits will also be provided for groups up to 250 people, so long as they abide by a COVID-19 safety plan.

Public restrooms, water fountains, swimming pools and senior centers remain closed.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
City playgrounds, including this one in Schenley Park, were closed while Allegheny County was under a shutdown order.

5:33 p.m. - Charges withdrawn against protesters

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala called Monday for charges to be withdrawn in 39 cases against protesters. A spokesperson for the DA says those cases all stem from a march that took place in downtown Pittsburgh on Saturday, May 30. Forty-three protesters were arrested that day. The DA’s office says Pittsburgh police have not provided enough evidence to justify the prosecution in the 39 cases the DA wants thrown out.
5:18 p.m. - Wolf administration orders baseline COVID-19 testing at long-term care facilities

The Wolf administration has ordered all long term care facilities in Pennsylvania to complete baseline COVID-19 testing by July 24th. All residents and staff at nursing and personal care homes must be tested at least once by that date. In a statement, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine says the goal is to detect asymptomatic cases. Long term care facilities have been the hardest hit by the pandemic, accounting for more than two-thirds of deaths statewide.

5:00 p.m. - Millions to be given to small businesses in Pa. struggling with effects of the pandemic

Pennsylvania will offer $225 million to small businesses struggling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. At a press conference on Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf said residents must remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19, but that the state can begin to focus on economic recovery.

The money will be distributed to community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, such as credit unions and non-profit loan funds, that will then make grants to qualifying businesses. The money can be used to help businesses pay debt, train employees or simply help cover the costs to reopen.

Some of the money, $25 million, will be used to help bolster CDFI reserves, while $100 million each will be allocated to main street businesses and historically disadvantaged businesses.

Read the full story.
3:57 p.m. - Pitt slams lawsuit from ex-officer seeking reinstatement

The University of Pittsburgh police department says it has no plans to rehire a former university police officer later acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.

The university police department said in a Twitter post Sunday that the university is “vigorously opposing” the federal suit filed in January by 32-year-old Michael Rosfeld, who alleged that he was forced from position in January 2018 in retaliation after he arrested a university official’s son outside a bar in December 2017.

Rosfeld was acquitted last year of homicide in the June 2018 shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II while he was an East Pittsburgh officer.

3:41 p.m. - PG staffers ask advertisers to pressure paper management after journalists removed from protest coverage

Reporters at the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette said the company racially discriminated against staffers, after management at the paper removed two black journalists from covering issues related to police brutality, and called upon advertisers to pressure the paper on their behalf.

“This is a national embarrassment to a newspaper that in 2019 received the Pulitzer prize,” said Michael Fuoco, president of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, which represents 140 journalists at the Post-Gazette. “The Post-Gazette is on the wrong side of history. We’re on the right side of history. We have a responsibility to fight for our members, we need to fight for non-discrimination, equality, and journalistic ethics.”

Alexis Johnson and Michael Santiago were removed from coverage of protests related to the May killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Read the full story.

3:18 p.m. - Organizers cancel Irish Festival

The 2020 Pittsburgh Irish Festival has been canceled due to the pandemic. The festival, originally scheduled for September, celebrates Irish food, music and culture, and in recent years has been held on the grounds of Sandcastle water park, in Homestead. This year marked its 30th anniversary. Organizers say the festival will return in September 2021.  More information is here.  

1:34 p.m. - Police officer surrenders to face charges in protest arrest

A Philadelphia police officer has surrendered to face assault charges stemming from video showing him striking a student protester in the head with a metal baton. Police confirmed Police Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna has been suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss. Bologna is also charged with reckless endangerment and possession of an instrument of crime. He was applauded Monday by dozens of officers, some in uniform, outside of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police in a show of support. Video circulating shows Bologna hitting a 21-year-old Temple University student in the head and neck area, before the student is knocked to the ground and another officer put his knee on him to keep him down.   

1:14 p.m. - Pittsburgh educators march for equity, justice 

Educators, students, and district leaders filled at least two city blocks as they marched from Sterrett 6-8 in Point Breeze to Colfax in Squirrel Hill chanting “Black Lives Matter,” “We want equity,” and “No Justice, No Peace.”  

Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Colfax K-8 Principal Tamara Sanders-Woods and her son Ean led the march. Read more here

12:20 p.m. – Latest COVID case numbers

The state Department of Health reports 351 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 75,943. The number of deaths statewide increased by 10 to 5,953.

In Allegheny County, positive cases increased by 5 to 2,008. The number of deaths remains at 168.  

11:36 a.m. - 12 COVID-19 cases in PA traced to New Jersey shore 

Health officials in eastern Pennsylvania have traced 12 new coronavirus cases to a person who attended recent beach house gatherings at the New Jersey shore. The Bucks County health department announced on Saturday the cases are linked to a New Jersey resident who was present at multiple gatherings during the past two weeks. The department did not release the location in New Jersey. Health Director Dr. David Damsker says there are likely “to be additional infections among family members of the new cases.” He did not provided additional details. Damsker says it’s important to wear face coverings when attending small gatherings involving people who are not members of the same household.  

10:54 a.m. - Man charged with destruction of police car at protest

Brian Bartels, 20, was charged Friday with obstruction of law enforcement for allegedly “initiated the damage to a police car outside of PPG Paints Arena, including spraying painting the car and smashing its windshield. After others joined him, the car was set on fire,” during a protest on Saturday, May 30.

Bartels is described by police as being from the Pittsburgh suburbs and faces a possible sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

9:19 a.m. - Journalists clash with newsroom chiefs over protest coverage

NPR's David Folkenflik talks to Post-Gazette reporter Alexis Johnson over her viral tweet and the paper's move to remove her from protest coverage. Johnson told Folkenflik she believes her editors discriminated against her because of her race. Folkenflik also talks to a white Post-Gazette staffer who says he wasn't treated as severely for a similar infraction. Listen to the story here.

7:48 a.m. - Gun rights rally postponed

A gun rights rally scheduled to take place in Harrisburg Today has been indefinitely postponed after a credible threat was made, one of the organizers said Thursday. Kim Stolfer, president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, a Pennsylvania-based group that opposes new gun restrictions, said “Individuals were going to portray themselves as Second Amendment activists. They were going to mix with the crowd and then they were going to start killing people." Read more from PA Post's Ed Mahon here.

6 a.m. - What you missed over the weekend

The Associated Press contributed to this report.