Earlier this week, SF Weekly published a story about the 20 people arrested in Saturday's protest. Police had identified the protesters as "self-described Black Bloc members," the group of anarchists who claim responsibility for the vandalism during Occupy protests.
But the story, and the publication of the mugshots, created outrage and a string of angry letters and comments from readers. One of those arrested, 25-year-old Michael Pellagatti, called SF Weekly to explain exactly what happened -- and set the record straight by claiming that he is in no way affiliated with the Black Bloc.
In fact, Pellagatti says he's a independent journalist from New York City who tours the nation live-streaming protests (you can see his portfolio here). After reading about the planned protest in San Francisco on Saturday, he decided to hop a plane to the West Coast.
The protest was an anti-Columbus Day demonstration, for which police claim the protesters had no permit. The demonstration reportedly drew a crowd of about 100 people, including Pellagatti, who says he was filming less than a block away from the protesters when the chaos broke out.
"I was on the sidewalk legally, following all the rules and police orders, and I was
streaming the protests, sticking to the sidewalk," he tells SF Weekly. "I can't recall any specifics, but there was a lot of craziness and back-and-forth between protesters and police. I can't say for sure who was to blame."
Pellagatti says he heard a loud sound; police tossed their bikes down on the ground and charged into the streets where the protesters were. Pellagatti started running, but dropped his phone. He shuffled back to pick it up and was "kneed in the head."
"The next thing I knew I was under arrest," he says. You can see his livestream and the arrest here.
He was handcuffed and put in the paddywagon with 19 other alleged protesters, where they sat sweating before being hauled to jail. Pellagatti, who emphasizes he was wearing a gray sweater at the time of his arrest, not a black one, was arrested on suspicion of inciting a riot and conspiracy to commit a crime. "I don't know what they base that on," he says.
SF Weekly spoke with police spokesman Officer Gordon Shyy who tells us he didn't know anything about a journalist being among the group arrested, but that all were "charged with inciting a riot and their actions that day confirm that." Shyy says that many of the protesters are possibly linked to the Black Bloc, but he can't confirm for sure if those arrested were part of the anarchist group.
Police did claim that protesters had tossed bags of rocks and projectiles at them.
Michael's father, John, says he saw the video of his son's arrest and immediately flew from New York to San Francisco, where he shelled out $36,000 in bail money. Pellagatti was scheduled to be arraigned today; however, Pellagatti called back later in the afternoon to tell us the DA dropped the charges against him. Alex Bastian, spokesman for the DA's Office, confirmed that the charges had been dropped "due to insufficient evidence."
That's good news for the Pellagattis, who were prepared to file a lawsuit against San Francisco Police.
"SFPD put him up as Black Bloc member or this bullshit radicalism that he's not part of," the elder Pellagatti says. "The goddamn kid is a lector at church on Sundays back home."