Group Leader

Frank Nitty, leader of a March on Washington 2020 group from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, waits for news on a friend outside of Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center emergency room on Tuesday, August 25, 2020. The group was marching from Milwaukee to Washington D.C. and was traveling along Route 30 Monday night, when they encountered a man who they say shot one of their members.

An Everett man was arraigned Wednesday, charged with discharging a firearm Tuesday evening in the parking lot of a Bedford County hotel where about 30 Milwaukee activists were staying while on their way to a Washington, D.C., rally, authorities said.

The same group of activists also was involved in a gunfire incident on Monday evening along Route 30, just east of the Bedford-Somerset counties line, with one of their members treated for wounds at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown.

State police in Bedford charged Jeremy William Decker, 43, with reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and firearms violations as a result of the second confrontation.

According to a criminal complaint, counterprotesters arrived at the Hampton Inn, 4235 Business 220 in Bedford Township, around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday and an argument followed.

The owner of the hotel heard the argument and asked the counterprotesters to leave. As they drove away, gunshots were heard, the complaint said.

One of the activists reportedly live-streamed the incident on Facebook. From the video, troopers said they were able to identify the vehicles that were involved.

Troopers said they later stopped a 1988 Ford truck, in which Decker was the passenger.

Troopers seized multiple firearms including a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. Six 9mm shell casings were found at the shooting scene, police said.

Vehicles of other counter-protesters also were tracked down. 

Protests and gunshots

One member of the visiting group reported seeing Decker brandishing a firearm through the open window of a 2001 silver Dodge Ram and "fire several rounds in the air" before leaving the scene.

Decker is a convicted felon and is prohibited from possessing a firearm, the complaint said.

Online criminal records for Decker include felony assault and burglary, online court records show.

The activists checked out of the hotel Wednesday morning. They are en route to attend the March on Washington 2020 event on Friday – the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Hours before the hotel shooting, a group showed up at the Bedford County Courthouse, reportedly in response to the Milwaukee activists being in the area.

Troopers did not say if Decker was part of that group.

Decker was arraigned by District Judge Kathy Calhoun, of Everett, and lodged in the Bedford County Jail.

'Confrontation escalated' 

The Hampton Inn incident took place a day after one of the Milwaukee activists was shot in Juniata Township.

In that incident, troopers said the activists and support vehicles had stopped in a parking area along Lincoln Highway, Route 30, just east of the Somerset-Bedford County line when they were confronted by property owners.

"The confrontation escalated and gunshots were exchanged between the property owner and the activists," troopers said in a news release.

One of the activists was struck with bird shot and taken to Conemaugh hospital, where he was treated and later released.

A spokesman for the activists, Frank Nitty, said the group had just reached Juniata Township in Bedford County when shots were fired.

"We just got through stretching and were listening to prayer and gospel music when we heard a gunshot," he said. "This guy just came out of the darkness and was shooting at us."

Troopers said they are questioning two people, but as of Wednesday, no charges have been filed in the Monday night incident.

Deacon Jeffrey Wilson, of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Johnstown, said both incidents are reminders of the Jim Crow era, when laws enforced racial segregation. Wilson is chairman of the Johnstown Police Advisory Board.

"It troubles me that a group of activists exercising their constitutional rights, who just happen to be traveling through our state – men, woman and children – have to be in fear because of the mood of our country at this time," Wilson said, "which reminds me of what we thought was a bygone past in America."

Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5061. Follow him on Twitter @PatBuchnowskiTD.

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