Pittsburghers and people across the world are outraged after a video from Pittsburgh PrideFest on June 15 showed a police officer viciously attacking a woman in the street went viral. The video shows Officer Souroth Chatterji suddenly charge through the small crowd that had gathered around anti-LGBTQ protesters and grab 19-year-old Ariel Lawther by the hair, pulling her out of the crowd and down onto the street. He pulls her back up and then punches her several times in the ribs before cuffing her. Lawther doesn’t appear to resist at all.
Lawther, a lesbian, was arguing with anti-LGBTQ bigots protesting at Pride as they shouted hate speech under police protection. Eyewitnesses say she was about a foot apart from the protestors while she told them that being gay was not a sin and she was proud to be a lesbian.
The criminal complaint against Lawther alleges that as Officer Chatterji went in to break up a scuffle between Lawther and a bigot she hit the cop several times in the chest and groin and that she grabbed at his “vest, chest, and belt area in an attempt to injure [him].” Officer Chatterji also claimed that the crowd, which he estimated at about 50 people, struck at him and created a “rapidly evolving and tenuous situation,” so he had to pull Lawther out in the open, where she is said to have continued fighting with the officer before he repeatedly punched her. She has been charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, simple assault, and aggravated assault.
The video shows a much different scenario, however, and eyewitnesses are calling out the officer’s lies. The full video from the scene, which begins several minutes before the incident occurred, shows Chatterji within the span of three seconds grab Lawther and immediately drag her out of a sparse crowd of a dozen people before they even realize what is going on. They also don’t appear to react to any alleged scuffle that had prompted the officer to grab Lawther.
One eyewitness, Lawanda Pearson, said “The officer was not kicked and punched. The girl just stood her ground as the officer got in her face, and then he grabbed her and threw her on the ground. When she did not get back up, the cop grabbed her by her hair and pulled her up saying, ‘Do you want me to hit you’ then he just repeatedly punch her on her side.”
Another eyewitness, Autumn Huntera, also said that the officer said “Do you want me to hit you?” before punching her repeatedly. Huntera said Lawther “never laid her hands on anybody.” And Jenna Kenny, who recorded the video, said “She didn’t put up a fight, whatsoever. The only time she was throwing her hands up in the air is when he grabbed her by her throat.”
As a result of the incident, Officer Chatterji has been placed on desk duty pending further investigation. However, people who have witnessed this and watched the video are demanding more justice. “The police have no respect for people,” eyewitness Sierra Kyle said. “They think that they can do or say whatever they want because they have a badge!” Officer Chatterji should be in jail for this blatant act of police brutality. Drop the charges on Lawther and prosecute Officer Chatterji!