Attorney, activists question West Mifflin police officers’ actions after incident with with teen on school bus

January 21, 2020
By Post Gazette
Post Gazette

Leaders of an activist group calling for the firing of two West Mifflin police officers after they were involved in an altercation with a 15-year-old girl on a school bus last month voiced their concerns during a council meeting Tuesday evening.

Supporters plan to continue their campaign against what they call “systemic violence” Thursday during a West Mifflin school board meeting.

“We plan to continue reaching out, and we’re asking for everyone who is available to advocate,” said Fawn Walker-Montgomery, founder of Take Action Mon Valley, on Wednesday. “I think it’s sad that it’s become almost normal for these things to happen, but we’re not going to accept that.”

The incident, which occurred Dec. 18, was captured on cellphone video and shows West Mifflin police Sgt. Christopher Mordaunt and Officer Tommy Trieu in an altercation with the girl.

The video begins as the two officers have the girl pinned against a window. One of them then pulls her by the hair as other students on the bus implore them to stop. It was unclear why police were called to the bus, or what led up to the altercation.

Five people showed up at the borough council meeting Tuesday night expressing concerns.

“You have two grown men with a 15-year-old black girl bear hugging her, pulling her hair, and her blood is squirting on her classmates,” Ms. Walker-Montgomery said at the meeting. “There’s nothing you could tell me that would excuse a 15-year-old child being assaulted like that.”

“Sergeant Christopher Mordaunt and Officer Tommy Trieu committed a crime when they brutally assaulted this tiny girl,” attorney Paul Jubas, who has been retained by the girl’s family, wrote in an Instagram post in December. “They sprayed her blood all over her fellow students and incited riot-like conditions on a school bus. Everything was calm on this bus until these officers began their vicious assault. To make matters worse, other videos prove they lied in their affidavit of probable cause.”

In the post, Mr. Jubas called for the charges against the girl to be dropped and the officers to be fired. He also said he was waiting to have a conversation about the incident with Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for Mr. Zappala, said he could not comment on anything connected to a juvenile case.

Reached Tuesday, Mr. Jubas declined further comment on the case other than to say “I have everything — there’s video evidence of the entire situation.” He said he might have more to say after the girl has her hearing in juvenile court in early February.

Phil DiLucente, West Mifflin borough solicitor, said the officers did not do anything improper. He said the case was being looked at by outside agencies and he could not comment further until the investigation was completed.

West Mifflin police did not return a call seeking comment.

“We believe everyone has a right to free speech. However, everybody needs to let this run its course. And in due time, any and all facts pertaining to their concerns will be addressed,” Mr. DiLucente said.

Allegheny County Councilwomen Bethany Hallam and Olivia Bennett released a joint statement Friday that asked the district attorney to file charges against the officers.

“We stand with the family and their legal representation and will do everything in our power to ensure a thorough and transparent investigation,” the statement said.