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Pittsburgh mayor has "serious concerns" over protester's arrest by police in unmarked van

Pittsburgh's mayor said he has "serious concerns" over the tactics used in the arrest of a 25-year-old protester on Saturday, CBS Pittsburgh reports. Matthew Cartier was purportedly seen in video posted on social media being arrested and put into an unmarked van by armed officers after he allegedly interfered with public safety.

The arrest took place Saturday around 5 p.m. in the Oakland neighborhood, where Cartier was allegedly blocking an intersection that is used for hospitals and the University of Pittsburgh. The Associated Press noted that Commander Ed Trapp of the Special Deployment Division said that Cartier was directing vehicles "with no situational awareness" and feared a traffic incident might happen. AP said about 150 people were part of the march that began about one hour and 45 minutes before the arrest.

"The idea was a surgical maneuver to remove the person that was the problem and allow the main protest march to continue, which in fact it did," Trapp explained Sunday. Sergeant Donald Mitchell of the Civil Affairs unit also said Saturday was a "move-in day for the University of Pittsburgh, so traffic was extremely heavy."

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he had "serious concerns" over the use of what police referred to as a "low visibility arrest." CBS Pittsburgh said the mayor found out about the arrest "moments" after it had happened.

"... That imagery, what people saw, scared them because they don't believe that's part of what Pittsburgh is," Peduto said Sunday. "They saw officers getting somebody and throwing them into a van, and they ask 'Why?' and they're right to ask 'Why?'"

Police on Sunday said they chose to apprehend the protester this way to prevent a crowd from gathering around the arrest, which could "incite them further."

During Sunday's press conference, Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said more than 100 demonstrations have taken place in Pittsburgh since the death of George Floyd and most happen on a weekly basis, according to CBS Pittsburgh. Safety officials have said that the gatherings have become increasingly unsafe.  

In response to the arrest, the mayor tweeted Saturday night that the city and the ACLU worked together in creating codes to enforce the public's safety. Peduto also said officials will "fully examine operations taken by Pittsburgh Police."

"The right to assemble is a guaranteed right, the right to shut down public streets, is a privilege. That privilege is sanctioned by laws and codes," the mayor wrote. "In Pittsburgh, we worked w ACLU & [Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board] to create our codes."

But the ACLU said Sunday that officers were "in clear violation of their own guidelines."

"According to those who were there, the law enforcement officers involved made no effort to work with protest leaders to clear the area and gave no clear dispersal order," Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. "Instead, they tricked a protest leader to approach them and then whisked him away. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has never suggested that the snatch-and-stash arrest of a peaceful demonstrator is ever acceptable."

CBS Pittsburgh said Cartier is facing charges of obstruction of a highway or other public passage, disorderly conduct and failure to disperse.

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