Three local activists are heading to trial to face charges in connection with a June protest at 941 Saloon downtown. The majority of charges against Dena Stanley, Nique Craft and Christian Carter were held for trial at a preliminary hearing Friday.
The charges are a result of an incident on June 20 at 941 Saloon that inspired a protest days later on June 24. Stanley is accused of making threats against the bar on June 20 after two patrons were asked to leave because they were wearing hats in violation of the dress code. Hundreds of protesters stood outside the bar on June 24 to protest the policy as transphobic and racist.
Magisterial District Judge Robert Dzvonick heard testimony from a 941 Saloon bartender and Pittsburgh Police Detective Frank Rosato.
Erica Spanovich, a bartender at 941 Saloon on both days, testified that after the men were asked to leave the bar on June 20, Stanley arrived and demanded the policy be changed and employees complete Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) training. Spanovich also alleges that Stanley threatened to burn down the bar.
Days later during the protest, employees inside locked the front doors. Spanovich testified that after the doors were locked, protesters hung signs, duct taped the doors shut and wrapped other materials around the handles. Spanovich did not testify who taped the door handles.
Carter faces a false imprisonment charge in connection with the taped door handles. Giuseppe Rosselli, Carter’s attorney, argued there is a lack of evidence that points to his client.
“At some point the individuals inside locked the doors. So this idea that they were efforting to get out and couldn’t —this idea that they were stuck inside— it’s not consistent in thought for me,” he told reporters outside Municipal Court Friday.
The most serious charge against Carter, felony riot, was withdrawn by Judge Dzvonick. Carter now faces false imprisonment, harassment and possession of an instrument of crime.
Rosselli also criticized the preliminary hearings being held at the same time.
“There were a number of individual issues based on individual pieces of evidence. For example, a co-defendant’s statement somehow being attributed to my client’s actions and my inability to cross examine the person who allegedly made those statements,” he said.
Pittsburgh Detective Frank Rosato testified regarding security camera footage and social media videos. The footage was not shown at the hearing, something all three defense attorneys objected to.
“Having a police officer describe a video of what happened rather than just simply playing the video was a skew of what really happened,” Michael Santicola, who represents Dena Stanley, said. “And I think we needed to see that today.”
“I do not believe they’re going to be able to get away with [not showing the footage], or that will be permitted at the Court of Common Pleas level,” Rosselli said. “Those videos will be part of the case moving forward.”
A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office declined to comment on the video footage.
Rosato also identified two people accused of jumping on a vehicle behind the bar during the protest as Lavier Pounds and Lorenzo Rulli, whose legal name is Shawn Green. Pounds did not appear in court Friday. Rulli is due at a later date for a preliminary hearing.
The judge dropped one of two terroristic threat counts against Dena Stanley. She still faces three felonies: one charge each of making terroristic threats, conspiracy and riot.
Judge Dzvonick held all charges against Nique Craft over for trial. Craft’s attorney, Paul Jubas, did not comment on the hearing. Craft faces charges of terroristic threats, riot, and harassment.
A crowd gathered outside of the municipal court building to show support for the activists. Many greeted and encouraged the activists before and after the court proceedings.
After the hearing, Craft pleaded with the crowd to follow direction from organizers at protests or other activists would be jailed and face similar charges.
“You begged me to come out and march with you guys and for you guys. You threw that megaphone at me,” Craft said. “This is serious. This is a real scary time.”
Alexander Schuyler was one of those in attendance outside of the court. He said he thinks the charges brought against the accused activists are unreasonable.
“I think it’s important to be here and to show the city of Pittsburgh and the police department that these charges are [expletive],” Schuyler said. “We stand with the activists, we’re not going to be silenced and that this movement is not over.”
Toy Slaughter, an independent activist, said they think it is important to stand behind the accused demonstrators.
“It’s important for people to see that activists aren’t hated here,” Slaughter said. “People are really grateful and appreciative of the fact that we’re out here stomping the pavement, fighting for our rights for their kids, our kids, grandchildren, et cetera.”
Stanley, Craft and Carter will face formal arraignment Friday, Nov. 13.