Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on Tuesday defended his actions in pursuing a man in 2013 and pulling a shotgun on him because he believed the man, who turned out to be an unarmed Black jogger, had been involved in a shooting.
While Fetterman has long said he didn’t know the man’s race, the incident was thrust back in the spotlight by his announcement Monday that he’s running for the U.S. Senate.
Fetterman was the mayor of Braddock when he said he heard gunshots not far from his home, then saw someone running from the area. Fetterman said he called the police, pursued the man, and said in a TV interview at the time that he confronted him with a gun to stop him from fleeing before police arrived. An officer who responded to reports of gunfire searched the man, Christopher Miyares, and found he was unarmed, according to a 2013 police report.
The incident drew relatively little attention in 2016, when Fetterman lost his first Senate run in the Democratic primary. But it has lingered in the years since, with a news report about it by Pittsburgh’s ABC affiliate circulating on social media, and in political circles among Fetterman critics.
Now, in the wake of Fetterman’s announcement — and amid a reckoning over systemic racism — his critics are pushing the incident into the spotlight. Retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey’s campaign released a statement Monday noting it, while on the left, some progressives have whispered about the potential political liability for Fetterman.
Some details are unclear, including whether Fetterman pointed his shotgun at Miyares. Fetterman says “it was never pointed” at Miyares. In a television interview at the time, Miyares said Fetterman “aimed it at my chest.”
It’s not in dispute that Fetterman pursued Miyares and held him until police could arrive, and that Miyares was unarmed. There was no accusation that Miyares was involved in an alleged shooting.
Fetterman, who has spoken frequently with reporters since formally launching his campaign Monday and addressed the incident in the past, declined to be interviewed for this story. He has defended his conduct in the years since, and did so again in a statement Tuesday after entering a Senate race in which he starts as the early Democratic front-runner.
“I made a split-second 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,” Fetterman said in the statement, noting the proximity of a nearby school and that it was not long after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting. “I stayed in my truck and never came in physical contact with the individual. I had my shotgun, but it was never pointed at the individual, and there wasn’t even a round chambered.”
Fetterman said race played no role in his decision to pursue Miyares. He has long said Miyares was dressed in black and wearing a face mask.
“Between the ski mask and the way this person was dressed, bundled head to toe in the dead of winter, I didn’t know what race that individual was, or even their gender,” Fetterman said Tuesday.
Miyares told the ABC affiliate at the time that fireworks, not gunshots, were responsible for the sounds. The police report said Miyares was “very cooperative.”
Miyares was unavailable for comment this week.
Randall Taylor, a housing justice activist and former Pittsburgh school board member, said Tuesday the 2013 incident “borders on vigilantism.”
”That can have very grave consequences,” said Taylor, who has met Fetterman. “I know as a constituent I would like a full and complete explanation of what happened that day.”
Ken Snyder, a Democratic political consultant who isn’t working for a candidate in the race, said: “It’s hard to imagine this issue won’t be front and center of the U.S. Senate race. It certainly should be.”
Reflecting the stakes in a race that will help decide control of the Senate, a top Toomey adviser released a statement Monday from Toomey’s campaign about the incident — even though Toomey isn’t seeking reelection. Fetterman “once even pulled a shotgun on an innocent, unarmed Black man,” said the adviser, Mark Harris.
Braddock, where Fetterman was mayor from 2005 until becoming lieutenant governor in 2019, is an economically blighted former steel-mill borough of 2,100 residents near Pittsburgh.
“[Gunfire] was coming from an area near our home that had been the site of countless shootings over the year,” Fetterman said in his statement Tuesday. “The truth is, there is a gun problem in Braddock and there always has been.”