By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
A police officer with a history of both on-duty and off-duty run-ins with the public arrested a bystander outside the Squirrel Hill Market Sunday after he told Abel that the officer’s “Thin Blue Line” facemask, was disrespectful to the American Flag.
According to video of the incident and an eyewitness at the scene, Abel told the man to leave the area. The man, who was going to the market, asked what he did wrong and why he had to leave, Abel took him into custody, even pulling his Taser on the young man, who continued to ask what he had done wrong.
Abel has a history of high-profile on- and off-duty incidents, including being fired and charged criminally for pistol-whipping and accidentally shooting a man while Abel was off-duty and drinking on the South Side in 2008. A man allegedly punched Abel outside a bar. Abel pursued the man, hit him with his gun, and accidentally discharged his weapon, shooting the man in the hand. Turns out, though, it wasn’t even the man who bumped into Abel. Abel was acquitted after the judge essentially ruled that a cop, even one who had been drinking, is never off-duty. However, the city paid close to $45,000 in a civil settlement. Abel got his job back.
During Sunday’s incident. Abel turns the man around and when he tells Abel that he did nothing wrong, the officer pulls the Taser.
“You know what, dude? The city gives me this,” Abel says as he pulls the stun gun and levels it at the man’s chest who is an arm’s length away.
The man replies: “No, no, no, please stop. Please don’t do that.”
Abel then shrieks at the man: “Then, turn around and put your hands behind your back, now! Now!.
The man continues to tell Abel. “I have not done anything.”
Abel replies: “I told you to go away and you didn’t want to listen.”
“But go away for what reason? Did I commit a crime?” the man asks
Abel replies: “Did I tell you to give me your ID?”
“But give it for what reason? All I said is that it’s disrespectful to have that certain mask on.”
Replies Abel: “And then I told you to walk away, didn’t I?”
The pair continue the back and forth and bystanders continue to ask the Abel what the man did to warrant arrest and search. Abel told the crowd: “He came up and decided to be disrespectful to me.” Many in the crowd pointed out that being disrespectful wasn’t a crime.
Pittsburgh Police issued a statement about the incident stating that Abel was working an approved off-duty assignment and that the man was blocking the exit to the market, “preventing other customers from leaving, including a blind couple.” According to the statement, an employee at the Squirrel Hill Market asked the man to move and said the man “became agitated and raised his voice,” and tried to engage the officer further about the flag, and continued to refuse to move. The officer asked for his identification several times so he could cite him, but the man refused each time and continued to block the exit and shout profanities at the officer.” The statement, which can be found below in its entirety said the man “tried to engage the officer further about the flag, and continued to refuse to move. The officer asked for his identification several times so he could cite him, but the man refused each time and continued to block the exit and shout profanities at the officer. At this point the officer moved to physically arrest the male, who resisted, knocking the officer’s body-worn camera into the street in the process. The male continued to resist arrest so the officer told him he would use his Taser if he did not comply. At that point, the man complied and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed.” Police said Abel’s subsequent search of the man’s backpack turned up, “marijuana, THC edibles, and drug paraphernalia and did not have a medical marijuana card. Charges include “Resisting Arrest, Defiant Trespass, Disorderly Conduct, and narcotics-related charges.”
The Pittsburgh Current asked about the appropriateness of Abel wearing his mask while in uniform. No response was given.
In the videos, the man constantly questions why he’s being arrested. Alex Osgood of Regent Square witnessed the altercation and told the Pittsburgh Current earlier today that it did not appear that the man was blocking people from moving on the sidewalk and that to him it didn’t look like the man did anything except question Abel’s choice in facemasks.
“[Abel] was really, really aggressive, not just to [the man] but to the bystanders as well,” Osgood says. “The only reason [Abel] gave for the arrest was that he was being disrespectful. This was way over the line if you ask me. The fact that he’s still employed is crazy to me. This is an officer who was previously fired from the force and somehow gets his job back through arbitration. That shows the power of the police union and that these reforms that [Mayor Bill] Peduto has out there aren’t going to cut it.”
Osgood says, even if the police statement is accurate, the worse thing that the man did was holding up the exit to a farmer’s market. “At that moment, Officer Abel had a choice to try and deescalate the situation, but instead he opted to cite him.” Osgood says it’s a pattern of Pittsburgh police to choose “escalation over de-escalation” in a lot of situations.
De-escalation of a situation has never been one of Abel’s strongest qualities.
In addition to the South Side incident, Abel was accused of improperly detaining and searching a man in 2019.
In 2008, also around the time of his South Side incident, Abel’s wife testified at a custody hearing centering around Abel’s stepchildren, that her husband forced her to use false claims of alleged sexual abuse against the children’s grandparents, who were seeking some level of custody at the time. Abel’s wife made the allegations in a request for a protection from abuse order. The order was never granted because Abel’s wife didn’t show up for the hearing. According to the Post-Gazette at the time, the grandparents’ attorney testified about the allegations at a public hearing of the Citizens Police Review Board into other incidents involving Abel. The grandmother of the children at the time said Officer Abel ‘was a bomb waiting to go off.”
Also in 2008, Joseph Stubenrauch of Allentown claimed Abel “beat him up at his home as paramedics tried to treat his father, who was having heart problems.” According to the P-G, Stubenrauch’s father didn’t want to be taken to the hospital and at one point, Abel wanted to use his taser on the elderly man. The man told Abel not to use the taser and the man was beaten and arrested. At the time, the Allegheny County Jail refused to take the man until he had been treated at a hospital for his injuries.
Complete Pittsburgh Police Statement:
Just after noon on September 6, a Pittsburgh Police officer working an approved off-duty detail for City of Pittsburgh Special Events at the Squirrel Hill Farmer’s Market was approached by a male patron who informed him that his mask (thin blue line mask) was disrespectful to the American flag.
The officer, who was speaking with a Special Events employee at the time, told the man that he would have to agree to disagree. The man, who was exiting the market at the cordoned-off exit point, continued to make his point to the officer and wanted to show him something on his phone. The officer would not engage with him. At this point a line was building as the man was blocking the exit, preventing other customers from leaving, including a blind couple.
The Special Events employee informed the man that he was blocking the exit and he needed to move aside. He became agitated and raised his voice, tried to engage the officer further about the flag, and continued to refuse to move. The officer asked for his identification several times so he could cite him, but the man refused each time and continued to block the exit and shout profanities at the officer.
At this point the officer moved to physically arrest the male, who resisted, knocking the officer’s body worn camera into the street in the process. The male continued to resist arrest so the officer told him he would use his Taser if he did not comply. At that point, the man complied and put his hands behind his back to be handcuffed.
The events employee then retrieved the officer’s body worn camera from the street so he could reactivate it.
The officer retrieved the man’s wallet for identification and searched his backpack where he recovered marijuana, THC edibles, and drug paraphernalia. The man did not possess a medical marijuana card.
He was arrested and charged with Resisting Arrest, Defiant Trespass, Disorderly Conduct, and narcotics-related charges.