Groups Want Charges Dropped In North Versailles Movie-Theater Arrest Of Local Activist And Rapper

Jul 12, 2018

The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Alliance for Police Accountability are among 15 civic groups demanding charges be dropped against a Wilkinsburg woman who was arrested during a confrontation with a North Versailles police officer.

Attorneys for Melanie Carter delivered the letter on Thursday to the office of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala. Her lead attorney, Brett Grote, said the charges are baseless and racially motivated.

“This case exemplifies some deeply entrenched problems with criminal prosecution and policing in Allegheny County, including racially adverse and disparate treatment to the black population, as well as overcharging in the practice of sticking as many charges on an individual in order to coerce plea bargains,” said Grote.

In February, Carter and a friend drove to a North Versailles movie theater to pick up the friend’s children. Inside the building, they saw some African-American teenagers being ejected by a North Versailles Officer Christopher Kelly, who is white.

Carter verbally criticized Kelly, who ordered her to leave. But the confrontation continued outside. A 90-second video captured by Carter on her cell phone went viral. It included a theater manager saying that the girls were “behaving like animals” and Kelly’s ordering Carter to leave. Kelly then approached Carter; the video seems to reflect a physical struggle, during which Kelly took Carter to the ground and handcuffed her.

Carter, a rapper and activist who is also known by her stage name, Blak Rapp Madusa, was subsequently hit with five charges, two of which were dismissed in a preliminary hearing. She still faces counts of defiant trespass, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Zappala’s office has said that “the effectuation of this particular arrest does raise concerns.”

The letter to Zappala from the civic groups called Kelly’s actions in the confrontation with Carter a “flagrant abuse of power … that your office is in a position to rectify.” It asked that Zappala “personally review the transcripts and video evidence” from the preliminary hearing, and emphasized that Carter was within her rights to videotape the incident.

The letter references a history of violent confrontations between police and unarmed African-Americans, including the fatal shooting in May of Antwon Rose, which continues to generate national attention

Groups signing the letter in support of Carter also included New Voices Pittsburgh, 1Hood Media, The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, the Democratic Socialists of America – Pittsburgh Chapter, and BlaQK Ops. The latter group has been especially prominent in organizing local protests over the Antwon Rose shooting.

Carter was scheduled to be formally charged yesterday. However, the arraignment was continued until Aug. 30.