A man confronted in 2013 by a shotgun-wielding John Fetterman — then mayor of tiny Braddock, now lieutenant governor and running for the U.S. Senate — claims Fetterman has “lied about everything” that happened that day.
But Christopher Miyares, writing from a state prison in Somerset County, also told The Inquirer that incident should not stop Fetterman from becoming a senator.
“Even with everything I said, it is inhumane to believe one mistake should define a man’s life,” Miyares wrote in one of two letters sent to The Inquirer. “I hope he gets to be a Senator.” (That last line was underlined three times.)
The 2013 incident has been long discussed in political circles as Fetterman’s career soared. But it has drawn new attention amid the racial reckoning stoked in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and as Fetterman, a favorite of progressives, emerged as the early Democratic front-runner in a race next year that could determine control of the Senate.
Fetterman and Miyares tell very different versions about that January day from eight years back.
Fetterman’s story: He heard gunfire near his home in the Allegheny County burg and saw a man wearing a mask running away, so he called 911, chased him down in his truck, and approached him with a shotgun in hand. Fetterman, who is white, has repeatedly denied knowing Miyares was Black or pointing the shotgun at him.
Miyares lived in Braddock at the time and said he liked Fetterman, but disputed his account.
“He lied about everything,” Miyares wrote.
He has previously said he was jogging in the neighborhood when he heard fireworks, just before Fetterman confronted him.
“He knew my race. The gun was aimed at my chest while he loaded five red shells into the tube of the 12-gauge TAC shotgun,” Miyares wrote. “Once he finished, he aimed it at my face out of the Ford F-150 Truck.”
But in a second letter to The Inquirer, postmarked on the same day last week, Miyares said Fetterman could face a political backlash now if the Senate candidate revised his account.
“Telling the truth on an incident 10 years ago could cause him more harm than good,” Miyares wrote. “Mr. Fetterman and his family have done far more good than that one bad act or action and, as such, should not be defined by it.”
He signed that letter: “Gooo Fetterman.”
The accounts of both men match a description in a 2013 incident report filed by the Braddock Police Department, which said Miyares was unarmed. The officer who responded to the 911 call said two people in the area stopped him to say “they heard several shots” before he got to Fetterman and Miyares.
The officer wrote that Miyares, 36, was wearing “running clothing” and headphones and was “very cooperative, but was upset that Fetterman pulled a shotgun on him.”
Miyares’ letters were in response to a letter from The Inquirer, seeking his version of the incident. He is serving an 18- to 36-month sentence after being convicted in 2019 of kidnapping, terroristic threats, unlawful restraint, and other crimes against a woman who hired him for a ride to work.
Miyares contended in his letter that he is “in prison for a crime I didn’t commit.”
Fetterman, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has stepped cautiously around the controversy since announcing his candidacy in February. He issued a statement then that he had “made a split-decision to intervene for the safety and protection of my community, and intercepted the person to stop them from going any further until the first responders could arrive.”
But in a March 11 Atlantic magazine profile, Fetterman went further than he has in years in publicly discussing the incident. He repeatedly referenced that Miyares ”is now in prison,” and delved into accounts of the crime that led to his conviction.
Fetterman also cast the 2022 election, according to the Atlantic article, as a choice between “somebody with a 26-year track record of working to advance the interests of marginalized communities over the word of somebody who attempted to impersonate a [car service] driver and abduct a woman at knifepoint and terrorize her, and is currently in state prison.”
According to the criminal complaint, the victim told investigators Miyares pulled out a knife after asking her a series of personal questions, driving a route not in the direction of her job, and locking all the car doors. She forced her door open, escaped, and flagged down nearby drivers for help as Miyares drove off. He later sent her a text message, saying he knew where she lived and worked.
Still, Fetterman’s critics and competitors spy a vulnerability. Talk of the incident has percolated in past campaigns, when Fetterman ran for the Senate in 2016 and for lieutenant governor in 2018, but the 2013 incident has now received the most coverage, due to Fetterman’s front-runner status and the national discourse over racism and policing.
Earlier this year, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Philadelphia Democrat and Fetterman’s chief rival for the progressive vote, expressed concern about the incident while entering the Senate race 10 days after Fetterman.
(Still, Braddock Mayor Chardaé Jones said the incident was not a factor in her decision to endorse Kenyatta on Wednesday.)
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh Valley Republican who is not seeking a third term next year, allowed his campaign to release a statement in February citing the incident as proof Fetterman’s political stances are “nothing more than a gimmick.”
Miyares could be eligible for parole as soon as June, although he was denied release in November by a parole board that cited “reported misconducts” in prison and his “minimalization/denial of the nature and circumstances of the offenses committed.”
If he were held for his maximum sentence, Miyares would remain incarcerated until April 25, 2022, according to the state Department of Corrections.
That is three weeks before the Senate primary.