Identity & Justice

The identity and justice desk explores how the makeup of the Pittsburgh community is changing, and digs into issues of diversity and equity.

Fired Pittsburgh Sergeant On Stand In Civil Rights Trial

May 25, 2017
Gene J. Puskar / AP

A fired Pittsburgh police sergeant is set to continue testifying in his civil rights trial on charges he wrongly beat a drunken man and then lied about it in a report.

Former Sgt. Stephen Matakovich testified Wednesday that he thought 19-year-old Gabriel Despres was preparing to attack him and that he struck Despres to prevent that.

But federal prosecutors say a surveillance video of the incident doesn't support Matakovich, who is charged with deprivation of civil rights and falsification of a document.

Noah Berger / AP

At least 15 states have allowed police agencies to pilot surveillance drones in the name of public safety, including one that can carry weapons.

This week on 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and host David Harris talks to the Cato Institute’s Matthew Feeney from his office in Washington D.C.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

**UPDATED: 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Monday that Pittsburgh Police officers don't have to live inside city limits.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

The president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce said he feels the popular bar district is still a safe place despite a deadly shooting inside the Rowdy Buck bar early Sunday morning.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

*UPDATED: May 22, 2017 at 5:39 p.m.

The panel that will decide Bill Cosby's fate in his sex assault trial began to take shape Monday with the selection of five jurors, three white men and two white women.

The search for 12 jurors and six alternates was expected to take several days. Experts believe lawyers on both sides will be considering race, sex, age, occupation and interests of potential jurors.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

Theresa Finn’s son, Jamar, was murdered nearly five years ago. She said it’s getting harder to deal with every day.

“Somebody shot through the window and killed my baby instantly. What I told people is that everyone is suffering. It [isn’t] just the moms,” Finn said. “When you take somebody’s life, it affects everybody, the whole community.”

Last week, Finn attended a preview of a new exhibit at Center of Life in Hazelwood called "I Lived, We Live, What Did We Miss?"

Matthew Apgar / The Chronicle via AP

The exposure of wrongful convictions began in 1989, and it upended the idea that guilty verdicts were always trustworthy. When there’s a wrongful conviction, what has to happen to get a court to exonerate someone?

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and show host David Harris talked to Marissa Boyers Bluestine, legal director for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said he’s considering filing charges against Pittsburgh Police officer Raymond Toomey in connection with a violent arrest Sunday outside The Flats bar on Carson Street in the South Side.

Adam Kucenic

A local restaurateur who planned to open a ‘90s hip-hop-themed fried chicken restaurant in East Liberty is changing the concept after receiving some backlash from the community.

Chicago Police Department / AP

The last few years have exposed major problems in policing: use of force, high-tech surveillance and a systemic lack of transparency. Some police tactics have even been called undemocratic, because the public isn’t involved on the front end.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

More than half of the local homeless youth have access to technology, often via smart phone, but advocates and organizations are hoping to reach the remaining population.

“At least 60 percent of youth, in studies, have access to technology,” said Carlos T. Carter, executive director of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. “How do we get that other 40 percent engaged? And it’s not just getting them a phone, so how do we get them access? They have to get service too.”

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office / AP

Cell phone monitoring has come a long way since the likes of television shows like The Wire and CSI. But unlike fictional surveillance, some devices currently used by law enforcement don’t require a warrant, or any permission at all.

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, host David Harris talks to Adam Bates, who studies the secret use of Sting Ray devices at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Screengrab / Woodland Hills Surveillance Video

More Woodland Hills High School students have come forward alleging abuse by a school principal and a school resource officer.

Four students are claiming abuse over the past two years, according to Pittsburgh Attorney Todd Hollis, who represents three of the students.

A 2015 surveillance video shows a student thrown to the ground by armed school resource officer Steve Shaulis, who works for the Churchill Police Department. The school’s principal, Kevin Murray, assisted Shaulis in holding the student down. The student was then Tasered.

Virginia Alvino Young / 90.5 WESA

Demonstrators on the City-County Building’s steps downtown Monday called for legislation recognizing Pittsburgh as a sanctuary city. It was part of several May Day events in the city, which traditionally call for workers’ rights.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Socialists, immigration advocates and others are planning May Day demonstrations across the state.

Organizers including Make the Road Action in PA say hundreds of immigrants will protest Trump Administration immigration policies at Pennsylvania's capitol.

Similar groups are planning two marches in Pittsburgh, including one starting at the City-County Building's steps at 2 p.m.

Are High-Speed Police Chases Worth It?

Apr 25, 2017
Houston Chronicle/Nick de la Torre / via AP

High-speed chases down busy highways have become a news staple, as police attempt to arrest alleged criminals. But the people most often hurt by these scenes are the innocent civilians. Thousand have been injured or killed over the past few decades.

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, law professor and host David Harris talked to Dr. Geoff Alpert of the University of Carolina about whether these high-speed chases are really worth the cost.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Keith Srakocic / AP

Americans who live in high-crime neighborhoods often get portrayed as anti-police, but an Urban Institute study released in February shows something different: strong respect for the law and a willingness to help with public safety.

Department Of Aging Gets Training To Better Provide For LGBT Seniors

Apr 14, 2017
Annette John-Hall / WHYY

Senior citizen Harry Adamson is 67 and lives in the part of center city Philadelphia known as the “gayborhood." He came out at age 25 when “anything gay was either suspect or terrifying.”

Adamson has also lived with HIV for 32 years. So he thinks the recent training that the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and other state agencies received to better respond to the needs of LGBT adults, including those living with HIV/AIDS, is a good idea.

“But you have to discern how you can engage people so they can tell you what they need,” Adamson said.

United Artists / Library of Congress

If you’re a registered voter or have a driver’s license, odds are, you’re eligible for jury duty. But just because you’re called, doesn’t mean you’ll serve.

Research from the Jury Sunshine Project in North Carolina shows that some people get dismissed from the jury pool a lot more often than others.

On this week’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and show host David Harris talked to Wake Forest School of Law professor Ron Wright, who’s finding those exclusions make a big difference in the outcome of some cases.

ICE Corrects Record For Some Pennsylvania Jurisdictions

Apr 10, 2017
Charles Reed/US Immigration and Customs Enforcement / AP

Most Pennsylvania counties won't hold jail inmates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a warrant.

They basically can't due to the liability potential established by a 2014 federal court decision.

Reasons aside, any law enforcement agency that declines a detainer request is now being called out in weekly reports as per President Donald Trump's executive order.

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The commonwealth is embarking on a long-term plan to reduce the numbers of mentally ill inmates in county prisons.

Gene J. Puskar / AP

In March 2015, then-Police Chief Cameron McLay committed to working with the U.S. Department of Justice as part of a six-city pilot project to help heal cities’ fractured relationships with communities of color.

Part of that agreement is set to include racial reconciliation training, which asks police and citizens to speak plainly about their issues.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

There are all sorts of eureka moments that might make someone decide to remake their lives, from a bad breakup to a health scare to job loss.

Taylor Davidson

Pittsburghers who want to support refugees in the community will soon be able to do so one-on-one.

A new organization called Hello Neighbor is now taking applications for individuals and families who want to be matched as friends and mentors to incoming refugees.

Paul Sakuma / AP

Efforts to oversee police several decades ago resulted in hundreds of complaint review boards that investigate when an officer or civilian come forward about a specific case. But a new type of oversight is gaining traction – one in which appointed civilians look at whole departments and how they do their jobs day-to-day. 

Fact Check: ICE Report Inconsistent With Local Jurisdictions In PA

Mar 27, 2017
Charles Reed/U.S. Immigratino and Customs Enforcement / AP

After President Donald Trump’s executive order, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were tasked with publishing reports on a regular basis showing how local law enforcement agencies respond to detainer requests, and what happens thereafter.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh police have charged 11 people after protesters threw rocks, broke windows and set off "large-scale" fireworks during a protest outside the Allegheny County Jail.

Police named the defendants Tuesday afternoon, but The Associated Press was not identifying them because it wasn't immediately clear what charges and actions were being attributed to which defendants.

Police say about 25 people from the Allegheny County Health Justice Project gathered about 8 p.m. Monday.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

When a group of people is given great power to watch over the rest of us, how do we make sure they use that power correctly?

Pittsburgh’s Citizen Police Review Board was created in 1997 to do just that. 

Mexican Consulate Offers Legal Assistance For Concerned Immigrants

Mar 15, 2017
Gregory Bull / AP

The Consulate of Mexico in Philadelphia has traditionally been the place to go for Mexican immigrants to receive assistance with things like securing passports, birth certificates, visas, and how to send money to loved ones in Mexico.

Charles Krupa / AP

President Donald Trump has called for a return to “law and order” policing and shown support for stop and frisk and heavy use of force. Many modern police leaders aren’t buying in.

This week on 90.5 WESA’s Criminal Injustice podcast, University of Pittsburgh law professor and host David Harris looks at one non-member, nonpartisan organization that conducts field studies with real cops to find more nuanced data-driven ways to reduce crime.

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