Police union: Video shows woman attacked officer

AP News
Posted: Jul 21, 2014 2:59 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) — More pictures and video have surfaced showing what happened before a city officer punched a woman at the city's gay pride parade and festival last month, which the city's police union contends show the officer was justified.

Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bryan Campbell told The Associated Press on Monday the other images show Ariel Lawther, 19, of Harmony, pushing a preacher protesting the event before she grabbed, pushed and struck the officer she accuses of wrongfully striking her.

The Delta Foundation, a local group that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, asked police to investigate the officer's actions after a friend of Lawther's posted a 14-second video showing Officer Souroth Chatterji grabbing Lawther's hair and punching her repeatedly in the side.

Some of the new video came from a bank surveillance camera about a half-block from the incident on June 15. A professional photographer also took several stills that show Lawther grabbing the officer and struggling to keep from being handcuffed, Campbell said.

"You'll notice the blows he struck were to the body, to get her arms down, so he can get her handcuffed and get her under control," Campbell said. "In this particular case he felt striking her would overcome her resistance and, in fact, it did."

Lawther faces a preliminary hearing Aug. 11 on charges including aggravated assault — for allegedly fighting with the officer — and simple assault, for allegedly pushing the preacher.

"What's clear from the video is you see this girl assault one of the preachers," Campbell said. "You see clearly, and he's a pretty substantial guy, but she must have bull rushed him because he's knocked back."

Campbell said Chatterji was specifically tasked with keeping hostilities from escalating between those who supported the parade — like Lawther — and those protesting it.

"He'd even talked to this girl before about, 'Calm it down, calm it down,'" Campbell said. The officer wrote in his criminal complaint that Lawther eventually apologized to him, and had threatened to "kill" one of the protesters while using an obscenity before she was arrested.

Chatterji remains on restricted duty while the city's Office of Municipal Investigations, which probes misconduct allegations against police and city employees, reviews the incident.

OMI has the surveillance video, which Campbell said he viewed last week. A police union official who Campbell said has at least one of the still photographs did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Lawther's attorneys on Monday told The Associated Press they felt it was unfair for the police union to speak about the evidence in public.

"It's improper to comment on the evidence in a case you're associated with," said Komron Maknoon, Lawther's criminal defense attorney.

Steve Barth, an attorney Lawther hired to possibly sue the city, said he wants to see the video and pictures. He said distributing a photo of the incident publicly provides only "a snippet" without context.

Barth said previous criticism of the police was fueled by social media, not Lawther's attorneys.

"It's when the attorneys start saying, 'Aha, here's the smoking gun,' that you run into problems," Barth said.