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Dream Home Turned Nightmare: How Black Activist Flecia Harvey has survived ongoing racial and LGBTQ+ discrimination in Penn Hills

By October 16, 2020 October 17th, 2020 No Comments

WTAE-TV captured a vehicle driven by David Fiori through a crowd of protesters in July.

By Brittany Hailer
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
brittany@pittsburghcurrent.com

David Fiori Jr., 63, drove through a protest twice in Penn Hills on Saltsburg Road on July 15. One protester was clipped by his vehicle. His charges include attempted aggravated assault, simple assault and reckless endangerment.

 His formal arraignment is Oct 19 at 9 a.m. in room 519 at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

This is a story of the events leading up to Fiori’s actions that day and how his nephew had been harassing Penn Hills resident Flecia Harvey for months. 

This is a story of the violent trauma that Harvey has endured since moving to the Pittsburgh suburb. 

***

Flecia Harvey, 58, moved to Penn Hills in September 2019. 

Less than a year later, on July 15, a silver sedan ran a red light and barreled through a protest in her honor. 

Harvey grabbed her chest, tears welling in her eyes. She said someone pulled her out of the way of the oncoming car. The men and women around her scattered as David Fiori Jr. pressed his foot on the gas. 

“I was his target,” she said. 

Harvey’s community had rallied for her that day because her neighbor—Fiori’s nephew—had been tormenting and harassing Harvey for months. 

But at that time, Harvey didn’t know the man in the car and the man next door were family. 

A video posted to social media captured the incident. 

When Fiori speeds through the protest, his car clips a woman’s arm and nearly misses two others. Then he does it again. At the 1:26 mark of the video, an unmarked police car sitting at the traffic light, turns on its flashers and follows Fiori’s speeding vehicle after he blows through the intersection a second time. 

Shaken, the protesters then marched a mile to Harvey’s house to find Fiori parked in her driveway. 

In this video, posted to social media, protesters ask police officers why Fiori isn’t arrested. 

“Do your job,” the protesters chant.

“But he should be arrested now, that was attempted murder. If it was a Black person, you all would have hauled our asses to the f***ing county jail by now,” a protester says off-camera to a Penn Hills police officer.  

In a second video posted to social media , around the 13-minute mark, Penn Hills Chief of Police Howard Burton speaks with protesters as Fiori stands in the background. When the group tells Burton that Fiori drove through the protest, he responds, “I’m not worried about that.”

Fiori stood with Penn Hills police officers and watched as the crowd demanded his arrest. 

Twenty-four hours later, after aerial footage of Fiori’s drive-through aired on WTAE, Penn Hills police did arrest him. His charges include attempted aggravated assault, simple assault, and reckless endangerment. Officer Ryan Ferek wrote in the criminal complaint that Mr. Fiori was parked in a driveway on Saltsburg Road. 

Fiori told Ferek he did something “stupid,” and he “did not know why” and that he got “worked up.”

Fiori’s formal arraignment is Oct 19 at 9 a.m. in room 519 at the Allegheny County Courthouse. 

Fiori’s lawyer is Patrick Thomassey, the same attorney who represented Michael Rosfeld, the officer who shot and killed 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. 

On its own, Fiori’s act of violence and the police department’s failure to respond is alarming.

However, this is just one of many instances of harassment that Harvey has endured and Penn Hills officials have ignored. 

The Pittsburgh Current reached out to The Penn Hills Police Department, Burton and Penn Hills Mayor Pauline Calabrese and none have returned multiple requests for comment.  

***

Harvey’s cat, Biggie, is dead. 

In November, a black arrow with orange fletching punctured his neck and entered his torso. Biggie was lying at Harvey’s front door when she found him. She screamed and called the police.

Flecia Harvey pictured with Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden

That’s when she alleges that she saw her neighborFiori’s nephewwith arms raised in triumph, a bow in one hand. 

When the police arrived minutes later they told her she couldn’t prove her neighbor had shot the arrow. They failed to bring any charges, or issue any fines. 

“No chargesI don’t understand that,” Harvey said, “[The Officer] saw the cat. The cat was still living—he had the arrow through his whole body.”

Biggie died after Harvey rushed him to the vet. Distraught and with no one else to turn to, she posted to facebook:

 [The below comment has been edited for clarity]

My cat was murdered. Evidence points towards my neighbor. I can’t prove it but I felt a disconnect with the police station and the police officer that came. They never even took a report… I fear for my life my neighbor sits in his car and stares at me. And the police say there’s nothing I can do about that, he can sit in his car and stare at me. Does that sound right or am I wrong? Please somebody help me. Please, I don’t want to be dead and then they say oh yeah we should’ve listened.”

Local LGBT+ activists and community members reacted in shock and her post went viral throughout the community. Harvey, who the community has come to know as D-Rock from when she DJ’ed at various gay and lesbian nightclubs in Pittsburgh, and spearheaded Pittsburgh’s first Black Pride march in 1995. For years, she worked with the Delta Foundation. She threw Halloween parties for LGBT+ youth. 

Harvey says she’s endured more trauma and intimidation from her neighbor than she’s had in all her years as a Black lesbian activist and prominent LGBT+ organizer. 

***

When Harvey moved into her new home in Penn Hills with her partner of 19 years, Veronica, she thought it was a dream come true. She’d just lost her mother to Alzheimers after caring for her for five years in a four-story house in the city. After her mother’s death, the house became too much. Harvey had to undergo back surgery and the stairs to the bathroom, or basement to do laundry, exhausted her. The memories of her mother’s passing haunted her, too. 

When she toured the home in Penn Hills, her grandson climbed the tree in it’s ample yard. Light dappled the windows as she walked around the main floor. Sure, there was a basement, but it would be perfect for grandchildren, nieces and nephews. She stood and watched her grandson climb and climb. The house was perfect. 

Harvey didn’t know then that she was landlocked. 

Several parcels of property encompassing her house are owned by the Fiori family, including an easement, her driveway, owned by David Fiori, Jr. An easement is an agreement between a property owner and a neighbor that allows access but not ownership. 

After blowing through the intersection, Fiori was legally allowed to park in front of her house because it is his land.

He drove there because it is his home. 

He too, is Harvey’s neighbor. Living a few houses over. 

Harvey poured all of her assets into purchasing her new residence. Her partner took out a loan to pay for the rest. 

“People are saying, why don’t you just move? It’s not that easy,” she said,”Why should anyone go through that? Why can’t he stay in his property and I stay in mine? That’s the way it should be.”

 

***

The Scarecrow erected outside Flecia Harvey’s bedroom window.

At first, Harvey’s neighbor was cordial, but soon he started calling the police alleging Harvey dumped lawn clippings in his yard, or for her taking down a temporary mesh fence. She called authorities when she saw him walking on her property and spraying a chemical she claims made her break out in a rash. She called the police, too, when he erected a scarecrow just a few feet from her bedroom window. The arms parallel to the ground, outstretched, the face peering into her home. Both neighbors installed cameras. Both asked the police to file charges, to come see what the other neighbor had done. Between the two, the police have been called 19 times.

Harvey joked that her experience moving into the Fiori’s Penn Hills is like something out of Jordan Peele’s horror film Get Out. 

 Things turned violent when Biggie turned up impaled with that arrow on Harvey’s front stoop, and yet, Harvey is the only one who has been charged criminally by the Penn Hills Police Department. 

She’s been charged with destruction of a survey monument because she removed stake flags she says she saw her neighbor put between their yards. She is fighting this case in court and believes the surveyors will back up her story that the neighbor installed the flags himself. She’s also been charged with harassment for an argument and scuffle she got into with her neighbor’s wife. 

Harvey posted a sign in her yard that read: “Cat Killer Lives Next Door” with an arrow pointing to her neighbor’s property. The police charged her for that, too, but the case was dismissed. 

“In all my years, I’ve never been on the wrong side of the law,” she said, “and now I have a record. 

When Harvey organized Pittsburgh Black Pride marches, she always contacted the police force and asked for them to join. Her mission was to bridge the gap between the two communities. 

“There were officers that were always excited about attending our events,” she said, “I wanted officers to recognize that the LGBTQ community is not their enemy–we are just like you. I wanted to stop the hatred of people that are different from them.” 

***

Screenshots of threatening and sexually aggressive direct messages sent from a Facebook page that appears to belong to Harvey’s neighbor, were sent to Terrance McGeorge co-founder of Project Matters and Project Silk. McGeorge helped organize the July 15 protest for Harvey and provided the screenshots to Pittsburgh Current. 

The screenshots read, in part, “Heeeeeyyyyy…Cat Killer here….I made you a scarecrow since you were so interested in mine. Can’t wait to see you on the 13th and give it to you. Don’t forget your bullhorn and your homies if they’re not in jail haha.” 

On August 6–over a month after Fiori drove through the picket line–another message appeared in McGeorge’s inbox, in part:

“Cmon bro get real. You couldn’t handle a white boy like me. I’d tear that ass up…You ever see Porkys? Why do you think they call me meat? It’s cause I got a [hammer emoji] brah.” 

McGeorge shared the screenshots with prominent activist Fawn Walker Montgomery who is the founder of Take Action Mon Valley and has been garnering community awareness on behalf of Harvey. 

Walker Montgomery’s complaint was emailed to Chief Burton and Mayor Calabrese on August 6.

“My name is Fawn Walker Montgomery and I am the Co-Founder and ED for Take Action Mon Valley (TAMV). We are working with various other groups to assist one of your residents with racial harassment she is experiencing. Today her neighbor sent a direct threat to one of our organizers and all of us (please see attached). I am requesting that charges be filed.”

She did not receive a response from Burton or Calabrese. 

Walker Montgomery and McGeorge also took the text messages to the Penn Hills Police Department. She said the department told them to file in her own borough. Penn Hills didn’t have jurisdiction because McGeorge and Walker Montgomery are not residents. Neither followed through with pursuing charges with their respective borough police departments. 

On Oct 13, Harvey and Walker Montgomery met with Burton and Calabrese. 

Fawn read the threatening text messages aloud. 

“They acted shocked,” she said, “which I don’t believe, because I already emailed it. They acted like it was the first time they heard it. The chief kept saying, give that to me, so I can look over it. Give me everything you have. Give me everything you have.” 

Burton directed Harvey to gather as much evidence as possible of her harassment by her neighbor. Burton said he would assess if they should file charges after she provided a packet of videos, messages, and photography. 

“My thing is. I know for a fact, I sent the chief of police a certified letter after my cat was killed. The chief never got back to me. I hand-delivered the same letter. I then emailed that same letter. When I asked [in the meeting], he said he never got it. That’s his answer to everything. It’s falling on empty ears. He really doesn’t care,” said Harvey.  

Liana Perez, director of operations at the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement helps communities set up oversight entities for police departments. She said that smaller departments don’t often have an accountability agency, and recommended Harvey go outside of Penn Hills for justice. 

“I don’t know what kind of support or protection this victim is getting. She should contact the United States Department of Justice civil rights division, this is a civil rights violation,” Perez said, “It’s racial and based on her sexual orientation. She would be protected because she’s under a protected class.”

Allegheny County Councilor-at-Large Bethany Hallam and Allegheny County Councilor Liv Bennett, have been leading the charge to form a police review board for Allegheny County. Hallam says meetings have been held to seek input from the public and other stakeholders to “make sure it’s done right the first time.”

“There’s currently no accountability for the 109 police forces in Allegheny County,” said Hallam,“Things like this happen all the time, we never hear about them, they’re never portrayed in the media and then they get swept under the rug.”

“We need a review board that has teeth and actually holds these departments accountable.”

Earlier this summer, Pittsburgh Current published a story about Thomas Drake, a Black Vietnam veteran and Churchill resident suffering racial discrimination and harassment by his white neighbor. The neighbor called the Churchill Police and municipal authorities on Drake countless times. Drake alleged the officers responding to these calls intimidated him on behalf of his neighbor. 

A lot has changed in that time, however. Drake’s story has not only led to him finally getting the help he needs but a larger discussion in the borough about both police and community reform. 

Churchill Council President Jay Dworin is working on an ordinance that would impose a $500 fine for calling the police to harass someone based on a protected class, such as race. Because Drake’s neighbor has employed the municipality to harass him, the CAREN (Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies) Ordinance will be expanded to include municipal services as well. 

If passed, this ordinance will be the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. 

“We have made it explicitly clear that Churchill is not the place for the racists, the sexists, or the homophobes,” said Dworin in an interview with Pittsburgh Current, “ If you want an inclusive and progressive community this is your spot. The CAREN ordinance is the tool we can use. Ordinances do just as much work just being on the book—knowing that you’re moving to a community that says, listen, we are not OK with this. If you see what we are doing and think, we don’t want to move to Churchill, we don’t want you anyway.”

***

Most recently, Harvey’s neighbor called the police when Harvey posted a sign on her side of the property that read “Black Lives Matter: Vote.” 

“I had the police come to my house…and they told me that my neighbor had a problem with my sign and I needed to move my sign off of his property. I told the police officer, that’s on my property–you can clearly see.” 

But, the little patch of grass where she stuck her sign is on the easement, is not hers. It’s Fiori’s. 

She tried to sit at the end of her driveway, protesting the harassment she’s endured, and the negligence of the Penn Hills Police Department. She was told she had to leave the driveway. It wasn’t her property. Yes, it is an easement, but she’s only allowed to drive in and out, not sit. The property owner had called the police. The property owner said she wasn’t allowed. 

“What’s happening to me is wrong. I was out of my mind crying when they told me to take my signs down,” she said, quietly on the phone, “I am not giving upI don’t care how many people stand with me or drop out. This is the eyeopener that racism is real. I need someone with power to give me justice.” 

A Gofundme to support Harvey and her partner reads, “We know that the Black woman is the least protected & least respected person in America.” Proceeds from the campaign will go to security cameras, real estate lawyers, and other legal fees Harvey has accrued since moving to Penn Hills. 

Organizers are also urging residents to attend the next Penn Hills Council meeting, which is at 7 p.m. on Oct 19. 

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