PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Mayor Bill Peduto has apologized for publicly yelling at a police commander in front of other officers after smoke bombs were used to control protesters during an anti-Donald Trump march.
Peduto acknowledges acting “unprofessionally” when he yelled Wednesday night, but said he thought the use of smoke and riot gear was unnecessary because he contends the group of about 150 marchers was just exercising its right of free expression.
“I was very upset that we would use smoke,” Peduto said. “If there was ever a time when there is the right of people to assemble, which is a constitutional right, it’s the day after an election. There was no indication that there was anything violent or anything else.”
Police union president Robert Swartzwelder said officers were in regular uniforms trying to ensure the march was orderly. But officers used riot gear and smoke after protesters threw rocks and wouldn’t disperse, causing officers to fear the group might block access to a hospital, Swartzwelder said.
That’s when Peduto drove up and berated the incident commander in front of his subordinates, Swartzwelder said.
“People were there trying to keep control of a situation that was potentially spiraling out of control. They acted appropriately and the mayor intervened. And in my opinion that was unprofessional and dangerous,” Swartzwelder said.
It confused officers at the scene, who weren’t sure who to follow and “it can also cause the crowd to become confused and say, `We are going to take our direction from the mayor and not the police,”’ Swartzwelder said.
The union president said Peduto also mentioned Cameron McLay, who resigned as police chief last week, weeks after the union voted “no confidence” in him. Peduto hired McLay more than two years ago with the stated intention of reforming the police bureau and improving the realities and perceptions about its relationship with the black community.
“If you think it was bad under Cam, it’s going to get worse,” Swartzwelder said Peduto threatened. Peduto acknowledged referring to McLay.
In April, some officers who weren’t allowed to use riot gear were injured and pepper-sprayed by anti-Trump demonstrators outside an appearance by the now-president-elect.
The union blamed that on McLay, who, in turn, said someone lower on the command chain made the call that no riot gear would be used. Officers were allowed to use riot gear while controlling demonstrators outside a subsequent Trump appearance.
Peduto said it’s “malarkey” that police were endangered by his outburst on Wednesday and said if the union disagrees with how he works with the police command staff “then we have a very strong difference of opinion.”