At least 80 police officers from multiple agencies were called Downtown to control hundreds of protesters outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center during Donald Trump’s campaign stop Wednesday night.
“It could have gone better, but it wasn’t police who made it escalate and I feel good about that,” Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay said. “The officers showed restraint.”
Two officers were injured by pepper spray, one in a minor scuffle and another was kicked in the hand, according to police. McLay was initially unsure if any officers used mace.
“I certainly wouldn’t blame them,” McLay said. “If they did, it would be very appropriate in that context, but I don’t know that we did.”
Individual debates sometimes verged on violence, often only to end in handshakes and hugs. Others turned briefly physical and prompted police intervention. Officers acted as human barriers to keep protesters from entering the convention center and to limit contact with rally-goers.
Warning: video below contains some graphic language.
Three people were arrested and charged with riot and aggravated assault at about 7:46 p.m., police spokeswoman Emily Schaffer said.
Kennon Hooper, 31, of West Oakland is accused of spraying a police officer with pepper spray and kicking he or she in the back of the knees and hand, according to police. As officers moved in to arrest Hooper, Lisa Cuyler, 27, of Polish Hill allegedly jumped on an officer's back. Police said Maxwell Yearick, 29, of Perry South then attempted to fight an officer and grabbed his vest. Yearick injured another officer during the course of his arrest, Schaffer said.
Some media members reported being shoved or knocked around by police and protesters alike.
Here's me getting shoved by police pic.twitter.com/faBWITKZN0
— Megan Guza (@meganguzaTrib) April 14, 2016
Trump made an earlier appearance in Oakland to tape an hour-long Fox News special with Sean Hannity. As the day progressed, people on both sides grew louder, playing music and chanting.
One group rushed the front of the line prompting a small police barricade.
"We live in a constitutional republic founded on debate, argument and problem solving," said Trump supporter James O'Rourke, 29, of Brentwood. "These people don't want any of that. They just want to scream."
University of Pittsburgh senior John Kennick, who said he came to engage Trump supporters in reasoned conversation, called the afternoon “very cordial (and) very peaceful.”
Positions didn’t change, he said, but he didn’t expect them to.
Ed Hancsak of Elizabeth said he agrees with most of Trump’s campaign promises.
“I think you got to repeal Obamacare immediately. It just hurts small businesses," he said. "Also you got to do something about the immigration – illegal immigration. I see the signs and I respect immigration, just do it the right way. My grandparents came from Europe, they did it the right way.”
Penn State freshman Christian Sepos said he admires Trump for his candor.
“I just like his attitude towards everything," Sepos said. "Everyone’s all politically correct and everything, but Trump tells it how it is. Whether you like it or not, it’s what’s true and that’s what America needs.”
At the rally, Trump promised supporters he would bring back jobs in Pittsburgh’s now-dormant steel and coal industries.
“You’re going to be so happy,” Trump said.” We’re going to bring it all back.”
Trump’s major messages focused on job creation and demonizing trade agreements he characterized as damaging to the U.S. economy. The Republican front-runner said he’d bring in businesspeople to negotiate instead.
“They’re tougher than politicians,” he said.
As supporters filed out, the two sides engaged in heated verbal confrontations with police in riot gear often stepping in to separate the two sides. Multiple scuffles resulted in police, civilians and reporters being knocked to the ground.
Ronnay Sirmons, 18, said things got pretty heated on both sides.
“But overall, the night wasn’t too bad and everybody’s pretty much going home safe. Nothing got out of hand too crazy so I’m pretty appreciative of that.”
Penn Avenue reopened to traffic at about 9:45 p.m.
90.5 WESA reporters Noah Brode and Sarah Schneider contributed to this report.