By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
On an evening in February 2018, Melanie Carter and a friend drove to a mall in North Versailles to pick up the friend’s children from a trampoline park.
When they arrived at the Stadium 18 Theater, they saw a few black girls between the ages of eleven and fourteen being kicked out. Carter, worried for the children after seeing how the theater manager, Jason Bauer, and Officer Christopher Kelly were treating them, began to film the encounter. The resulting video went viral. It now has more than 2.7 million views.
In need of a Lawyer. I went to Phoenix Theater in North Versailles on February 23 at approximately 9pm when I pulled up an officer was pushing a young black girl out the door aggressively I asked the girl what happened and she said she was playing with her friends in the game room when officer Chris Kelly grabbed her from behind escorted her to the door and pushed her outside. The officer then went back inside and made several other black girls leave the theater I started filming at this point and was assaulted by the officer who banged my head on the concrete while placing his knee in my back and placed under arrest although I broke no laws. IM ASKING THE COMMUNITY TO HELP ME SEEK JUSTICE
Posted by Melanie Carter on Thursday, March 8, 2018
In it, Carter (who is a rapper and artist that performs under the name Blak Rapp Madusa) keeps a small distance from the men and narrates the scene.
“You see how they treat our kids,” Carter says, “they called them animals.”
The theater manager approaches Carter and confirms her accusation saying, “because you’re behaving like animals.”
Bauer was fired from the theater soon after the confrontation, though he denies that his actions were racially motivated and says that the kids were engaged in horseplay and loitering.
At the very beginning of the video, Officer Kelly walks up to Carter and asks for a light for his cigarette. Carter calmly refuses. This interaction played a key role in the pretrial proceedings Thursday morning at the Allegheny County Courthouse, where Carter’s council, lead by attorney Brett Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center, sought a dismissal of the charges against Carter due to a lack of supporting evidence. Kelly later tells Carter to leave the premises because of their “defiant trespass.” Carter disputes that they were trespassing. Kelly, cigarette still in mouth, tries to cuff Carter before throwing them to the ground while Carter screams that they did nothing wrong.
Press and supporters filled the 37 seats available in courtroom 308 of the Allegheny County Courthouse in wait of Judge Cashman’s decision, which would determine if the charges would be dropped or moved on to a trial.
No new evidence was introduced on either side and both Grote and Assistant District Attorney Christopher Decker, reviewed the transcripts from Carter’s initial appearance in Magistrate’s Court with Judge Cashman. Grote asked that Carter’s video, the security footage, and a third-party witness’ video be shown to Cashman in the court. Decker objected. Judge Cashman ultimately decided that both Carter’s video and the security footage could be shown, because he could not make “heads or tails” of the transcripts without it. The third video he denied because it’s origins were not reliable. Carter faced charges of disorderly conduct, defiant trespass and resisting arrest.
After the videos, Grote told Cashman that even though Officer Kelly has testified that Carter cursed at him, the words Carter used were not sexual in nature and therefore not “obscene” under the precedent that the Pennsylvania Superior Court has set, and therefore not considered disorderly conduct. Grote also argued and Cashman seemed to agree that Kelly was sending Carter mixed messages about leaving the premises.
“Don’t you find it unusual that you would remove someone and then go up to them and ask them for a light for a cigarette?” Cashman asks Decker as he attempted to argue for the charge’s legitimacy.
And finally, in order for Carter to have resisted arrest, Grote said, the arrest must have been lawful, and he believed it was not. Cashman eventually dismissed all charges. After the hearing, Carter told the Current that in that moment, they were thinking, “I hope that we win; I pray that we win; I feel like we’ll win.”
In a written statement, Mike Manko, spokesman for DA Stephen Zappala, sent the following statement to the Current: “Our office did a thorough review of the video of this arrest shortly after it happened and we determined that there was nothing criminal involving the actions of the arresting officer. Once we made that determination, we felt it was appropriate to let a fact finder determine the merits of the charges. We respect the decision of the Magisterial District Judge that took place at the preliminary hearing and we respect the decision of Judge Cashman today.”
“I know that with the solidarity of the Pittsburgh community and the work of my legal team that justice will prevail, and it was awesome to have that opportunity and to be a part of that and to show people in Pittsburgh that when you stand up for justice, we will win, we will prevail,” Carter said. “And so I’m honored to be one of the ones who won, because we don’t always win. And sometimes they turn a blind eye to injustices especially against people of color, and so to have this win it means so much for the future and for Allegheny County making changes, too.”