Attorney Matthew Zatko called for a “thorough investigation” of the events of Aug. 24, when an altercation between a Black Lives Matter group from Wisconsin and local residents resulted in gunfire, with one person being treated at a Johnstown hospital.
We agree that a thorough but expedient probe is warranted, and call on Bedford County District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts to address the incident directly and publicly.
Zatko represents Terry Myers, who was involved in the late-night incident along Route 30, where police say an “exchange” of gunfire occurred between residents and a group marching through Pennsylvania on the way from Milwaukee to Washington, D.C. The marchers participated in a large rally in the capital on Aug. 28 to mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
In an exclusive interview with The Tribune-Democrat, Zatko said the marchers arrived at Myers’ property at about 11:35 p.m. and pulled vehicles accompanying the group into a parking lot at Myers’ father’s garage across the road from the father’s home. Terry Myers lives a short distance away, Zatko said, and came at the behest of his father.
Myers is suspected of firing a shotgun and wounding one of the marchers, who was treated at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center.
“The confrontation escalated and gunshots were exchanged between the property owners and the activists,” state police said, as our Patrick Buchnowski reported.
State police said they seized a shotgun and a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and shells at the scene.
Zatko predicted that Terry Myers “will be exonerated of any wrongdoing.”
The lawyer said: “The individuals who were there were clearly informed they were on private property and were not to remain there.
“The evidence will clearly show that Mr. Myers was not the aggressor that evening.”
State police told The Tribune-Democrat that they conducted at least 30 interviews to determine whether charges are warranted in the Juniata Township shooting.
The results of those interviews and physical evidence will be turned over to the Bedford DA, who must decide what happens next.
The Route 30 incident launched a series of events that included a counter protest the next day on the Bedford County courthouse steps – where participants brandished high-caliber firearms – and a shooting outside a motel where the marchers were staying before continuing their journey to Washington.
An Everett man, Jeremy William Decker, was ordered to stand trial in the Aug. 25 shooting at a Hampton Inn. Police said Decker fired shots from a vehicle as he left the motel following a verbal altercation with some of the marchers.
One of the witnesses who testified at Decker’s preliminary hearing said the rally at the courthouse was a reaction to the presence of the Black Lives Matter group and heightened emotions following the Route 30 incident the night before.
“We heard (the marchers) were going to burn down the courthouse,” Tonya Reaugh testified, telling Decker’s attorney that locals were “pretty much” there to protect the county building from the Black Lives Matter group.
The Decker group went from the courthouse to the motel, where shots were fired after they were told by the Hampton Inn manager to leave, testimony showed.
“We heard” – on social media, through the rumor grapevine – is hardly an excuse for driving to a motel to confront a group of visitors and then discharging a weapon.
We appreciate the fast action on the Hampton Inn shooting. Decker is a convicted felon who is not permitted to possess a firearm. Police seized multiple weapons, including another 9mm semi-automatic handgun, when he was arrested the next day, and six 9mm shell casings were found outside the motel, police said.
But while the Hampton Inn incident is apparently on a legal fast track, the DA has been silent concerning the Route 30 incident – despite numerous requests for information by The Tribune-Democrat.
Too many questions remain unanswered:
• Who organized the rally at the courthouse, and was an official permit issued for the gathering – to include an open display of weapons?
• Was there really a two-way exchange of gunfire along Route 30 – and who fired the first shot?
• Are charges warranted for the Route 30 shooting, and against which individuals?
These are tense times nationally, with protests leading to violence from Portland, Oregon, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere.
And here in our own back yard – where political and social divisions allowed for fear, anger and gunplay.
Childers-Potts owes it to the community to step forward with a definitive explanation of what her office plans next – even if the proper action is unpopular with local residents.