Penn Hills arrest yields excessive force complaints, investigation

A VIDEO STILL of the arrest of Rayquane J. Bowles-Wilds in Penn Hills.

by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer

Two weeks ago, 21-year-old Rayquane J. Bowles-Wilds made an illegal U-turn in a car with illegal, dark-tinted windows right in front of Penn Hills undercover police officers who were working with task force officers from the state attorney general’s office on street crime and drug interdiction. So, one of the Penn Hills officers pulled him over.

What happened in the immediate aftermath is in dispute, but what was captured on video a few minutes afterward is not—several officers can be seen violently trying to get Bowles-Wilds handcuffed and restrained. At one point a police dog can be seen biting him on the leg, and the video also shows one of the task force officers kneeing him in the head.

The videos went viral, leading to calls for investigations into police brutality from the Alliance for Police Accountability and other community advocates.

Penn Hills police Chief Howard Burton maintains that while the videos may appear damning, they don’t show what led up to the arrest. He has body camera and dashboard camera video that does show what happened before the citizen’s camera began to roll, and he said in the totality of events, his officers acted appropriately. Bowles-Wilds was jailed with a $3,000 bond on charges of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and possession with intent to deliver, and assaulting a police dog, among other counts.

District Magistrate Anthony DeLuca, once the Penn Hills mayor, may or may not agree, but at Bowles-Wilds’ June 17 hearing, he threw out the charge of assaulting a police dog, saying it was a natural reaction to kick at the animal biting him. He also reduced his bond to “nominal,” meaning Bowles-Wilds could be released shortly.


Alliance for Police Accountability Executive Director Brandi Fisher attended the hearing and was pleased with DeLuca’s handling of the case.

“He had a very balanced nature, which was refreshing to see,” she said. “It was nice to see that happen, especially when the prosecutor wanted him to remain in jail.”

Fisher, who met with Chief Burton and staff from Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office right after the videos went public, said she was impressed with his quick response, and his acceptance to the invitation to meet with her personally in two weeks.

The only official response from Shapiro’s office was a press release saying, “We have no comment at this point on the traffic stop and arrest. We will continue reviewing and assessing all of the facts surrounding the incident.”

“So, he’s acting, again that’s not the kind of response we get—especially when his people are involved,” said Fisher. “We’d like to see these tactics changed—especially the use of dog. Dogs should not be used at all. It’s inhumane not only for the victim, but also for the dog—being weaponized like that.”

Fisher said her organization is compiling data on the use of police dogs statewide and nationally; how often and on whom they are used.

Chief Burton told the Tribune-Review last week that he would not be releasing the bodycam and dashcam video that “shows the whole story” of the arrest because it might be required as evidence should a lawsuit be filed against the municipality of the police.

He also said his officers would not be facing discipline because they did nothing wrong.

“From what I saw and what our own videos show, I believe our officers acted appropriately and were responding to the action of the individual,” he told KDKA Radio’s Lynne Hayes-Freeland. “I know that seems difficult for some people to understand from looking at those three videos, but we have a totality to look at of video what led up to when they saw those three videos.”

Fisher does not agree.

“Back when the chief first became an officer, this kind of training wasn’t even required,” she said. “He’s a good guy, but I think his thoughts on policing are antiquated. He accepts these barbaric acts because that’s what it was when he started as a cop. We’re about bringing justice back into the criminal legal system.”

The remainder of the charges against Bowles-Wilds were waived to Common Pleas Court. Not date has yet been set for his preliminary hearing.


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