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Pittsburgh Man Says He Lost Eye After Police Shot Bean Bag At Him During Downtown Protest

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A Pittsburgh man says he lost his right eye after police fired a bean bag round at him during the downtown protest.

Alex Horell, 28, said he came downtown on May 30 for a peaceful protest and ended up losing permanent sight in his right eye. Police say he incited disorder and have charged him with riot and disorderly conduct.

On Smithfield Street in May, police lobbed tear gas and protestors lobbed the canisters back. Then a police officer shot bean bag projectiles into the crowd.

The 28-year-old from Morningside lost permanent sight in his right eye that day.

Alex Horell
(Photo Credit: KDKA)

"The doctors did say it was the equivalent of a baseball bat to the face," Horrell said.

Horell will be fitted with a prosthesis on Wednesday, but on Tuesday he was arraigned on charges of riot, disorderly conduct and failure to disperse — even though his attorney says he did nothing wrong and police are trying to ward off a civil suit.

"Alex doesn't fit the bill of someone who was acting unruly. He fits the bill of someone who lost his eye. So the best defense here is a citywide offense and that why he's charged," said attorney Fred Rabner.

A criminal complaint accuses Horell of emptying a garbage can on the street, catching tear gas canisters with a garbage lid and throwing them back at police. Rabner doesn't confirm Horell did this but calls it justifiable. A video shows the police responding to a canister being rolled back by firing a bean bag back at the crowd.

While Rabner concedes that other protesters broke windows and looted stores that day, he says his client's group did not provoke.

"I understand there was a heightened sense there that night in certain locations," the attorney said. "That doesn't mean you have carte blanche to fire rubber bullets into peaceful crowds."


For Horell, his life is forever changed.

"Just getting around is weird. I trip and bump into things, balance is different. I'll never play sports again," Horell said.

But Horell says his injury at the hands of police only confirms the reason he was protesting.

"It's a really dark irony that a police brutality protest is met with more brutality, and it doesn't seem to matter," he said.

This will be a two-step legal process. Horell has a preliminary hearing in two weeks when he will dispute the criminal charge. In the meantime, Rabner is taking civil action against the city.

Pittsburgh Public Safety released a statement, saying:

Since its June 5th mandate, the Damage Assessment and Accountability Task Force has been investigating individuals who have committed crimes during the otherwise ongoing peaceful demonstrations. To date, only individuals suspected of breaking the law have been criminally charged.

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