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WESA Daily Briefing: June 25, 2020

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Erin Keane Scott
/
90.5 WESA

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

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

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

 

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6:24 p.m. - Philly police head decries tear gas usage against protesters

Philadelphia's police commissioner, along with the mayor, apologized to the public Thursday for giving statements that were inaccurate in the days after tear gas, bean bags and pepper spray were used against protesters who were trapped on a highway.

At least one high ranking commander took a voluntary demotion, and Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said a member of the city's SWAT team who was seen in videos spraying protesters with pepper spray will be notified Friday that he is suspended with the intent to dismiss him. The apologies and personnel decisions came the same day The New York Times released a reconstructed video of the June 1 confrontation on Interstate 676.

“In the weeks that have followed, I have learned that relative to 676, those (previous) statements are substantively inaccurate as I have now personally viewed video evidence that largely contradicts the material portions of those statements,” Outlaw said at a news conference Thursday.

Outlaw issued an immediate moratorium on the use of tear gas in most situations including to disperse crowds of non-violent people.

Videos of Philadelphia police firing tear gas at dozens of protesters trapped on 676 by SWAT team officers on both sides, many unable to retreat to an on-ramp, clambering to get up a steep embankment then over a concrete wall and fence, were spread on social media across the country.

The footage has been held up by advocates of police reform as examples of what they say has been a militarized police response to protests against police brutality after George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes to pin him to the ground.

During the news conference Thursday, Deputy Commissioner of Special Operations Dennis Wilson said he had not notified or sought approval from Outlaw to deploy tear gas or other “less than lethal” weapons during the interaction with protesters on the interstate. He said he was voluntarily taking a demotion effective immediately in response.

Read more about the announcement.

5:15 p.m. - Millvale Music Festival canceled

The Millvale Music Festival, one of the Pittsburgh area's last remaining large-scale summer events still on the books, has been canceled, organizers announced today. The festival was to have featured more than 200 local bands, plus visual artists, comedians, and spoken-word performers, in indoor and outdoor venues in Millvale's business district.

The two-day event had been postponed from its original date, this past May, until Aug. 8. But organizers and local officials decided to cancel the festival completely because of the risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic. The festival will return May 21 and 22 of next year.

4:51 p.m. - Pa. lawmakers approve legislation aimed at reducing violence by law enforcement

Weeks after the death of George Floyd, the House has unanimously approved legislation aimed at preventing police departments from hiring officers with a history of complaints against them.

But, Democratic lawmakers say they also want to see other changes, including new restrictions on when police officers can use deadly force and how those investigations are handled. Representative Malcolm Kenyatta said other Black and brown lawmakers understand the frustration and anger behind the protests.

“I know what it feels like to be stopped and frisked, to be thrown to the ground by an officer,” Kenyatta said. “[The officer] asked where I’m going, asked what I'm doing, asked why I’m out.”

Democratic state Representative Jordan Harris of Philadelphia said the measures are just a first step.

“This is not the end goal. We are not at the end of the rampway,” Harris said. “We cannot take a victory lap.”

The bill now moves to the Senate, which has also taken up police reforms. In that chamber, one measure unanimously passed would ban police officers from using chokeholds to detain someone. Another would require law enforcement agencies to submit all use of force reports to the State Police. Both proposals now move to the House.

4:44 p.m. - Twelve more counties move to green on Friday

 

Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Susquehanna counties will enter the green phase of Gov. Tom Wolf's reopening plan tomorrow.

 

According to a release from the governor, while Philadelphia County has met the criteria for the green phase, local officials have opted to maintain some restrictions until July 3. Lebanon County remains the only in the state to not yet enter green.

 

The green phase, which Allegheny County entered on June 5, means stay-at-home restrictions will be lifted and some businesses will be allowed to open with proper safety precautions.

 

3:58 p.m. - Pardons process for non-violent marijuana charges streamlined

Gov. Tom Wolf will soon pardon 26 people convicted of low-level, non-violent charges stemming from the possession of marijuana and related paraphernalia.  Thousands of others convicted of similar offenses could also be eligible, according to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who chairs the state's Board of Pardons.

"It's a mark on your record for consuming a plant that is now legal increasingly in more and more states across the country,” Fetterman said. “It makes no sense."

Fetterman spoke with WESA's The Confluence Thursday.

2:38 p.m. - Biden, Trump stage rare dueling events in PA

Both President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden are swinging through key battleground states on Thursday. The dueling events haven't happened much in the age of coronavirus, and their contrasting styles in response to the pandemic will be on full display. The former vice president is meeting with families who benefited from the Obama administration’s signature health care law in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and then giving a speech on how he would improve broader access to health insurance. Trump is visiting Marinette in rural Wisconsin for a private tour of a shipyard and participating in a town hall to be broadcast by Fox News Channel from Green Bay.  

12:58 p.m. – Latest COVID numbers

The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Allegheny County continues to remain high, with 37 new cases reported in the last 24 hours. The total number of cases now stands at 2,321. No new deaths were reported, the total remains at 184.

Statewide, the number of cases increased by 579, bringing the total to 83,770. The state also reported 39 new deaths, bringing the total to 6,557.  

9:55 a.m. - NYT poll shows Biden with strong lead over Trump in PA  

Check out the NYT poll here.

7:36 a.m. -  DA's office drops charges against protesters

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the Allegheny County District Attorney's office will not charge protesters for failing to disperse at an East Liberty Demonstration June 1. The newspaper reports:

"Last Thursday, the DA’s office announced, like it had done 10 days earlier for 39 more people, that it would not go forward with preliminary hearings for 22 protesters who had been arrested for failing to follow police orders to clear out — stemming from protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis."

The newspaper talks to advocates and legal experts about the decision. Read more here.