The Lead

Deluzio asks DOJ to investigate incident at Ambridge church as a possible hate crime

By: - August 31, 2023 5:30 am

The entrance signage for the United States Department of Justice Building in Washington D.C. (Getty Images)

U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-17th District, has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct a federal civil rights investigation into a Sunday incident in which a man allegedly tried to bring a gun into a predominantly Black church in Ambridge, near Pittsburgh. 

Deluzio, whose district includes the area where the alleged incident occurred, wants the DOJ to determine whether it meets the conditions of a federal hate crime.

According to court documents, Jeffrey Harris, 38, of Ambridge, is being held in Beaver County Jail on $975,000 bail, on charges of aggravated assault, terroristic threats, drug possession, and other charges. Police said Harris pointed a gun at two women on a street in Ambridge at around 9 a.m. Sunday while wearing a camouflage vest, the Beaver County Times reported. Harris was found with a 12-gauge shotgun, 25 rounds of ammunition and methamphetamine, the Times reported, and was seen by witnesses trying to enter Greater Dominion Church. 

TribLive reported that when authorities searched Harris’ home, it appeared “ready for a standoff,” according to court documents. 

In a letter to Eric Olshan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Deluzio said he had concerns that the incident was a potential hate crime, in violation of federal law.

“With hate crimes on the rise across the country, including against Black Americans, it is understandable that any community would be concerned by an armed individual terrorizing a place of worship,” Deluzio wrote. “A community not too far away from the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Greater Dominion congregation knows too well the harm that an armed individual filled with hate can do.” 

On August 2, Robert Bowers, the man convicted in the 2018 mass shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 people dead, was sentenced to death by a federal jury. The jury convicted Bowers, 50, on all 63 charges against him on June 16, including 11 counts of a hate crime act resulting in death.

Deluzio requested that in regard to the Ambridge incident, the DOJ “if appropriate, prosecute the individual to the fullest extent should it determine any federal crimes were committed against the Greater Dominion congregation.”

Harris is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on Sept. 5 before District Judge Alex Korol.

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications.