Community Issues

Sparkt Helps Get Injunction to Protect Holiday Tradition

Free holiday carriage rides continued downtown after a friend of Marty Griffin's helped get the carriage company an injunction against protesters.

When a handful of protesters showed up at his free horse-drawn carriage rides at PPG Place Downtown in early December, Mike Wertz of Mike's Carriage Service wasn't overly concerned. He'd been the target of protesters before, and this group was standing quietly across the street.

Two weeks later one of his drivers called him in a panic. The driver reported that picketers were now following him, videotaping the horses and confronting patrons. "They went over the top, literally putting posters (of dead and abused horses) in front of little kids faces, trying to get people to get out of the line," for the free carriage rides.

That's when Mike called Sparkt's Marty Griffin, who interviewed the experienced horseman and farmer on his KDKA-AM radio show. Local attorney and Marty's friend Bruce Gelman happened to be listening. Gelman offered to help Mike get a legal injunction so that his final Saturday of free rides before Christmas wouldn't be interrupted, something he couldn't afford. "Light Up Night through Christmas is the busiest time of year for us," Mike told Sparkt, although his rides are popular all times of year (that's an event at the Waterfront below).

A judge issued the injunction on Friday 12/21, and the next day Mike decided to go downtown and see for himself that the picketers were obeying the court order. "I didn't know who these people were at the time," said Mike. He'd already spoken to a local organizer named Bill. "He said (the protest is) not against me but against the business of bringing horses into the city on hard pavement and with cars," which Mike said is not harmful. Mike says "Bill" also acknowledged that his posters of an injured horse laying on the ground was actually a carriage horse from Charleston, SC, not Pittsburgh. That horse accidentally tripped and fell but was not injured.

Mike believes things escalated because a group lead by an out-of-town organizer joined in the weekend of Saturday 12/15, videotaping his carriages, posting to social media and getting in patrons' faces. "It's their right to protest but it's not their right to intimidate and use scare tactics because they don't agree," said Mike. "Thank God for people like Marty. I couldn't have gone out and gotten an attorney and spent a couple thousand dollars to do this."

"Thank God for people like Marty." Mike Wertz, Mike's Carriage Service

The injunction is good until December 31, but the free rides at PPG Place are over for the Christmas season anyway. "If this happens next year we'll have to do again," acknowledged Mike.

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