Everything to know about the 2013 John Fetterman jogger incident
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman pursued a man in 2013 and pulled a shotgun on him because he wrongly believed the Black jogger had been involved in a shooting.
In the first Pennsylvania Democratic Senate debate to feature all three major candidates, moderators asked Lt. Gov. John Fetterman a question about a January day in 2013. He had pursued a man and pulled a shotgun on him. Would he do anything differently today?
“The people of Braddock who know me, that know my heart, know that 2013 had nothing to do with what we’re saying today,” Fetterman said at the debate, after his opponents criticized him over the incident. “There was no profiling or anything involved.”
In 2013, Fetterman pursued a man and pulled a shotgun on him because he wrongly believed the man, who turned out to be a Black jogger, had been involved in a shooting. While the incident has long loomed over Fetterman’s campaign, it’s been particularly amplified by his opponents as the May 17 Democratic primary approaches. And Republicans are almost certain to make it an issue in a general election if Fetterman is the Democratic nominee.
Here’s everything we know about the incident, the fallout, and the political implications.
What happened between John Fetterman and a jogger in 2013?
Fetterman was well into his second term as the mayor of Braddock in January 2013, when he said he heard gunshots not far from his home and then saw someone running from the area.
Fetterman said in a TV interview at the time that he rushed his 4-year-old son inside his house, called the police, and then pursued the man in his truck. He said he confronted him with a 20-gauge shotgun to stop him from fleeing before police arrived.
“I believe I did the right thing, but I may have broken the law in the course of doing it, and I’m certainly not above the law,” Fetterman said then.
An officer who responded to reports of gunfire searched the man, Christopher Miyares, and found he was unarmed, according to a 2013 police report. Two other people reported hearing gun shots to police that day, according to the report.
Some details remain in dispute, including whether Fetterman pointed his shotgun at Miyares.
Fetterman says “it was never pointed” at Miyares. But in a television interview at the time, Miyares said Fetterman “aimed it at my chest.” In the same interview, Miyares said he believed the sound Fetterman heard was bottle rockets, not gun shots.
Why are we talking about this now?
The incident didn’t receive much attention in 2013 beyond that news segment. Fetterman went on to twice be reelected mayor of Braddock, a town of about 2,000 people outside of Pittsburgh.
In 2016, when Fetterman lost his first Senate run in the Democratic primary, it drew relatively little attention in that campaign, and the same was true when he successfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2018.
While the incident didn’t become a big issue, it never really went away. And in the years since, the Pittsburgh TV station news report circulated on social media, and in political circles among Fetterman critics.
This time around, Fetterman is the Democratic front-runner, and his opponents have increasingly made it a point of attack, including at the April 21 debate. U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, a rival in the primary, sharply criticized Fetterman about the incident in early April, and it’s been a persistent topic in the campaign ever since.
Both Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta have said it’s a legitimate issue to consider in evaluating Fetterman’s judgment as he runs to be a U.S. senator.
Voters today are hearing about the incident amid a reckoning over systemic racism and renewed outcries over the police killings of Black men, as well as the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin and the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot and killed while jogging after being chased by three white men.
Who’s been bringing this up?
Both Kenyatta and Lamb have increasingly brought it up on Twitter and at debates and candidate forums.
“For somebody who has cut an image of an incredibly tough guy, you’re so afraid of two little words, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” Kenyatta, the only Black candidate in the Democratic primary, said on the debate stage in Harrisburg.
“John had nine years ... to not just apologize for taking an illegally loaded shotgun, chasing down the first person he saw ... but to understand why that was so dangerous, to understand how that situation could have gone a completely different way,” Kenyatta said at another debate in early April.
He noted that acts of vigilante justice have ended in tragedy in recent years, and dismissed Fetterman’s frequent defense that he didn’t know the race of the jogger as irrelevant.
“It doesn’t matter the color of the jogger’s skin,” Kenyatta said. “One doesn’t have to be racist to be wrong. He was dead wrong.”
“Today, not only will John not admit that he was pointing the gun at this person. He also won’t really answer your question as to whether he did anything wrong,” Lamb said at the Harrisburg debate. “And I just think that’s disqualifying for any of us who have to work hard to gain the trust of the Black community.
What has Fetterman said about the incident?
In forums, interviews with reporters, and in a Medium post, Fetterman has consistently defended his actions and denied pointing the gun at Miyares or knowing he was Black. He dismisses the attacks as opponents looking for political gain. He has never apologized or said he would do anything differently.
In February 2021, shortly after he launched his Senate campaign, he told The Inquirer:
“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. 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.
Fetterman has also said he was responding as the chief law enforcement officer in a city that had struggled with gun violence. It also was one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, he’s said, noting the attack was fresh in his mind when he heard what he thought were gunshots, and knowing there was a school nearby.
At the Harrisburg debate, he again defended his actions.
“I was outside on a cold January afternoon,” he said. “I heard a burst of gunfire with my young son and I made a split-second decision to call 911, get my son to safety and intercept an individual, the only individual out running from where the gunfire came and intercept him until our first responders arrived.”
Asked if he’d do anything different today, Fetterman said:
“It’s certainly not a situation that anyone would want to be involved with, with gun violence, but I’d like to point out that I’m the only Democrat on the stage that has successfully confronted crime and gun violence,” as mayor of Braddock.
Fetterman has pointed to his eight years as mayor of the majority Black town as evidence of his record supporting the community there.
“I showed up 20 years ago to teach GED classes because I wanted to help young people get their lives on track,” he said at the Harrisburg debate. “And I ran for mayor 17 years ago because two of my students were gunned down because Braddock had a significant gun violence problem. ... I attacked the gun violence problem. And we succeeded. My proudest accomplishment was going five and a half years [without a homicide].”
Was Fetterman ever charged with a crime?
Fetterman was not charged with any crimes.
What does the jogger say happened?
Miyares, in a letter to The Inquirer, disputed some of Fetterman’s account.
“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 in February 2021. “Once he finished, he aimed it at my face out of the Ford F-150 Truck.”
While Fetterman has maintained he heard gunshots, Miyares has said the noise was bottle rockets. Two other people in the area reported gunshots to police, according to the police report.
Miyares also told The Inquirer their encounter shouldn’t 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.)
Miyares didn’t expect Fetterman to change 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.”
Where is Miyares now?
Miyares wrote to The Inquirer in response to a letter seeking his side of the story. Miyares 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.
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.
Miyares was paroled in July 2021 but was incarcerated for violating his parole that October. He was paroled again in January 2022, and violated his parole in March. He was released from SCI Smithfield, which is near Huntingdon in the Allegheny Mountains, on April 25, according to the Department of Corrections.
Fetterman has largely avoided talking directly about Miyares. But in a March 11 Atlantic profile, Fetterman repeatedly noted that Miyares “is now in prison,” and delved into accounts of the 2019 kidnapping.
In the article, Fetterman also cast the 2022 election 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.”
Do voters care?
It’s unclear how many voters even know about Fetterman’s armed pursuit of Miyares. Anecdotally, few had heard about it at a Fetterman rally in April. It hasn’t been featured in any TV attack ads, and is mostly something you’d only hear about if you’re following the race very closely.
The Collective SuperPAC, which supports Black candidates running for office and has backed Kenyatta, ran a radio ad attacking Fetterman for the jogger incident in April 2021.
Through it all, Fetterman has grown his lead in the polls, with about 41% of likely Democratic primary voters supporting him, according to a Franklin and Marshall College survey in early April.
When Fetterman skipped a Philadelphia Black clergy forum in January, several pastors said they were specifically hoping to ask him about it.
“You can’t win Pennsylvania as a Democrat without significant turnout from Black people in Pennsylvania,” the Rev. Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church said at the time, “and we deserve to hear from him and he’s gotta explain that to us.”
But voters, of any race, care about a lot of issues right now.
Mustafa Rashed, a Philadelphia-based Democratic campaign consultant who’s neutral in the primary, said he doesn’t think Black voters are as interested in the incident as they are in actual policies to help their communities.
“We’re sort of fetishizing the issue at this point. We’re saying this is the only thing Black voters care about,” Rashed, who is Black, said.
“Black voters should first and foremost care about their right to vote being taken away, economics, housing, police, criminal justice reform — a lot of issues,” Rashed said. “Whether or not John acted recklessly and pulled a gun on a voter should not be at the top of the list and should not necessarily immediately disqualify him. We’re not having a conversation about what he intends to do for Black voters or what he’s done — all we’re talking about is he pulled a gun on someone and why.”