Karen Piper sued Pittsburgh and its police force for negligence, civil rights and constitutional claims, in Federal Court.
“During the G-20 Summit Meeting held in Pittsburgh in September 2009, City of Pittsburgh Police used a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against civilians on or about the streets of Pittsburgh,” the complaint states. “The LRAD, a distance hailing and crowd control device, was developed in response to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, and was originally intended to be used by American warships to warn incoming vessels approaching without permission. Among other things, it emits harmful, pain-inducing sounds over long distances. The LRAD is a military-style weapon, and it was used for the first time in the United States when the Pittsburgh Police directed it on civilians in September 2009. Plaintiff Karen L. Piper, a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was an innocent bystander on September 24, 2009, who suffered permanent hearing loss, nausea, pain and disorientation when the LRAD was activated without any warning. Piper alleges in this 42 U.S.C. §1983 civil rights lawsuit that Defendant City of Pittsburgh and its officials violated her rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and that the City of Pittsburgh used the device negligently.”
Piper, an English professor at the University of Missouri was a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University when the police zapped her. She says she rode her bicycle to Arsenal Park when she heard that protesters were gathering there.
At the time, Piper says, she was working on a book about the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. “Her field of interest included examining whether protestors have any impact on these institutions. …
“Consistent with her academic interest, plaintiff’s intention was to take photographs and observe rhetoric on any signs.”
She says she “stood on the road beside a wall of police” and watched people “calmly and peacefully milling about in the park.”
The complaint states: “At or about 10:30 a.m., plaintiff observed the police marching in formation. Plaintiff, along with numerous journalists, followed the police down Butler Street to the corner of 32nd Street and Liberty Avenue.
“Because of the police activity she was observing, plaintiff became concerned and attempted to leave the area.”
That’s when defendant John Doe Officers Nos. 1-3 “activated an LRAD without warning, causing a continuous piercing sound to be emitted for a number of minutes.”
The complaint continues: “The LRAD was affixed to a motor vehicle that was about 100 feet away from her and moving along the street.
“When the LRAD was activated, plaintiff suffered immediate pain in her ears, and she became nauseous and dizzy. She developed a severe headache. She was forced to sit down and was unable to walk.”
Piper says she was “an innocent bystander,” and that “When the LRAD was activated, there was no imminent threat of harm to the police or other individuals, and defendants and/or their agents, servants and/or employees had ample and abundant time to determine how and/or when to activate the LRAD.”
She says the police “were aware, from warnings by the manufacturer, that the use of the LRAD was capable of causing permanent hearing damage and other injury, and said defendants deliberately disregarded the significant risk of bodily harm,” and that they did it with no warning, in fact, that they “deliberately failed to warn”.
She seeks damages for pain and suffering, lost earning capacity, “permanent loss of a bodily function,” medical expenses, negligence, and constitutional violations.
She is represented by Witold Walczak, by Sara Rose with the ACLU, by Michael Louik with Rosen Louik & Perry, and by Thomas Hollander, all of Pittsburgh.
A spokesman for LRAD said Piper may be exaggerating the hearing damage she allegedly suffered, since the sound she heard could not have been louder than fireworks, custom car stereos, or the siren of an ambulance or fire engine. An exposure of several seconds would not be very harmful since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration allows similar noise exposure for up to 15 minutes a day, according to the company, which added that it disputes the characterization of an LRAD as a weapon.
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