By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
Seven black, Pittsburgh-based politicians want Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala to meet with them to explain why he chose to charge three men who beat two black women outside of a McKnight Road gas station with misdemeanor simple assault.
The letter was sent Wednesday, Sept. 25 by the Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition and signed by state Reps Summer Lee, Jake Wheatley, Ed Gainey and Austin Davis; Pittsburgh City Councilors Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess and Allegheny County Councilor Dewitt Walton. A spokesperson for the coalition confirmed the letter was from the group. Through the spokesperson, Wheatley said there has, as of yet, not been a reply to the letter.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Balkar Singh, 40, of Harmar, and Sukhjinder Sadhra, 35, of Ross, along with employee Scott Hill, 50, of Perry South. Mr. Singh is identified as Asian in court documents, while Mr. Hill is listed as white; both were also charged with criminal conspiracy. Mr. Sukhjinder’s race was not listed on a criminal complaint.” The two victims, Ashia and Jamila Regan were pumping gas at the store when a pump malfunction caused gas to be spilled. They requested a $17 refund and were denied.
While the Exxon staff claimed the sisters started the fight, video shows the men instigating and pummeling the two in an altercation. Even at times when the assault seemed to die down, the employees would again make violent contact with the victims.
The letter reads, “As you are aware, our community has serious concerns, as the should. As their elected officials, we share those concerns. We are aware of the simple assault charges that were filed against the Exxon owners and we have some legitimate questions as to how your office came to a simple assault charge versus an aggravated assault charge. We also have several questions regarding the process of investigation that has taken place regarding this altercation. It is critical that we, as well as the community, have these questions answered.”
It concluded: “We understand that time is of the essence in this situation, therefore we are requesting to meet in the next week.”
On Wednesday, Zappala told reporters that he stood b his decision. According to Triblive.com: “The evidence, based on what I saw, doesn’t support aggravated assault. It would be easy for me to do politically. I have discretion, I can charge anything I want. It wasn’t the right thing to do.”
The Trib further explained Zappala’s response:
The distinction between simple and aggravated assault requires a use of force that wasn’t present in this case, Zappala said.
“With aggravated assault, you need a weapon, a bodily injury, you need somebody who gets hurt,” he said. “Police interviewed the ladies that were involved and they said basically, ‘We’re fine.”
“This is all about $17 worth of gasoline — $17 worth of gasoline, seriously,” Zappala said in describing the case.
In addition to this letter, a majority of Pittsburgh City Council also sent a letter to the D.A. criticizing his decision:
This raises serious questions about equity in our justice system and the disregard of minority communities. If the clear images of two African-American women being punched, slammed against a gas pump and dragged across the pavement by their hair are insufficient to warrant more serious charges, it forces one to wonder where the threshold lies and may set a dangerous precedent for future incidents.”