A prominent Pittsburgh-area transgender rights activist was arrested in Ambridge on Wednesday for an alleged attack, but she claims she instead was assaulted because she is trans.
The transgender woman said police unjustly filed criminal charges against her after a group of people brutally attacked her and hit her in the head with a brick.
But Ambridge police tell a much different story, alleging the woman attacked another woman and several juveniles – including a 7-year-old boy – following a squabble between neighborhood teenagers.
Dena Stanley, 35, of Pittsburgh, faces 14 felony and misdemeanor charges as a result of the incident just before 5 p.m. on Beaver Road.
Stanley founded Trans YOUniting, a nonprofit organization located in Pittsburgh that advocates for the non-binary and transgender communities. She is also a board member of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, which serves to foster social interactions among LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) residents in the metropolitan Pittsburgh area.
According to a charging affidavit filed by Ambridge Patrolman Joshua Causer, police responded to a call of an assault and found multiple victims who had been sprayed in the face with what was believed to be some type of pepper spray.
“Cecilia Melvin stated her and her two juvenile sons (ages 7 and 15) along with another juvenile female (age 17) were outside the front of her apartment when the attack occurred,” Causer wrote.
“She (Melvin) stated a juvenile (age 15) who officers had just dealt with during a disturbance at (the same address) early in the day had returned with an adult black female, later identified as Dena Stanley, pulled up outside her apartment in a white Dodge Avenger and got out and started a confrontation with her and the juveniles.”
Police allege the 15-year-old from the car pulled out the spray and sprayed the other juveniles, then handed it to Stanley, who also sprayed them.
“She stated as they retreated inside their apartment Dena Stanley threw a brick through the front window in the apartment and landing on the couch across the room and scattering broken glass everywhere,” the report continues.
Officers said they saw the broken glass along with a brick on the couch.
Medics treated the juveniles on-scene and determined they would not need to be transported to the hospital. Officers spoke with an individual who claimed to have witnessed the incident and took photos of the vehicle as it fled.
Officers went to an 11th Street address where they knew the offending juvenile to reside with her grandmother. Women there said the teen had gone to a store. They denied knowledge of the woman with her.
Police used the juvenile’s Facebook page to identify Dena Stanley.
Court dockets show Stanley was charged with felony aggravated assault of a victim less than 13 years of age, felony corruption of minors, three counts of felony aggravated assault, and four counts each of misdemeanor use of tear gas and simple assault and one count of criminal mischief.
In an exclusive interview with BeaverCountian.com today, Stanley insisted that she was the one attacked by a group of strangers.
“I was on the way to my mother’s house in Ambridge. They are doing all sorts of construction over there so there are only certain routes you can go,” she said.
Stanley declined to say what prompted her to get out of the vehicle after turning onto Beaver Road. “My attorney told me not to get into those details,” she said.
Stanley said she has never lived in Beaver County, and is only ever in the area to visit family or make an occasional delivery for her catering business.
“I didn’t even know them at all. They don’t even know me. They ended up getting into an altercation with me and I got bricked,” Stanley alleged.
She said the group was calling her a “he-she” as the assault commenced.
Stanley said after being hit in the head with a brick by a woman in the group, she broke free and drove herself to a hospital in Pittsburgh.
“I got the hell out of there, I wasn’t going to get killed in someplace like Ambridge … I was throwing up. I have a serious concussion and have to go see a specialist.”
Stanley said Ambridge police didn’t talk to her before they notified her mother that she was being charged and needed to turn herself in.
“How are they writing up a police report that says everything but her hitting me with a brick? You’re saying I’m this horrible person, but she goes on camera saying she hit me with a brick,” Stanley said.
In an interview with WTAE yesterday, Cecilia Melvin admitted to hitting Stanley with a brick, but claimed she did so in defense of her child.
“Yeah, I hit her with a brick, to get her off my 15-year-old child,” she told the station. “Yes, I did. When they dropped to the ground, my son said he can’t see, he can’t see, he couldn’t breathe. He has asthma very, very bad.”
During the interview, Melvin said that she herself is a lesbian and denied the altercation had anything to do with Stanley being transgender.
“It hurts. It really hurts because I fought my whole life because when people found out I was gay, they targeted me because I was gay. I would never do that to anybody or want anybody to feel that way.”
Attorney Michael Santicola, who is representing Stanley, told BeaverCountian.com that Ambridge police should have taken more time to investigate the case before filing the charges against his client.
“It boils down to a she-said, she-said. The police never did bother to talk with her and I see that all the time. Why didn’t they drive to the hospital where she was being treated for being hit with a brick? Why at the minimum weren’t they both charged?
“My client was using mace. They were using a brick. I can’t understand the nature of the charges based on what I heard. This was a rush to file charges,” Santicola said.
Santicola said Stanley intends to plead not guilty and assert she was acting in self-defense.
Ambridge Police Sgt. Glenn Sovich told BeaverCountian.com that officers were unaware that Stanley had been hit with a brick, but said they had attempted to make contact with her before filing charges.
“We told her mother we wanted to talk with her and she never got in touch with us,” Sovich said.
“And if she did nothing wrong, she was just down the road from the police station, why did she flee to Pittsburgh? She didn’t report getting hit in the head with a brick to us or to the Pittsburgh police.”
Sovich said Stanley’s alleged escalation of a neighborhood dispute between teenagers was something his department will not tolerate.
“She went to that house to fight her niece’s rival, the person who she thought was giving her niece trouble … When we got there everyone was distraught because there was a 7-year-old boy who couldn’t breathe as a result of that encounter.”
Sovich said that police are also filing charges against Stanley’s niece in juvenile court for the alleged assault.
Stanley’s supporters have set up a crowd-funding site to raise money for her defense, which as of the time of this report had garnered nearly $2,300 from dozens of contributors.
“Dena Stanley … was violently attacked by a group of cis gendered males and females while visiting family in Ambridge Beaver County. … We can’t afford to lose another one of our Trans Sisters to this unlawful system,” the call for donations reads.
Cis, or cisgender, is a term used by some to describe people who are not transgender.
“We can’t not afford to continue allowing cis-gendered people to physically and mentally assault our community! Join us in solidarity as we bring visibility and support to Dena Stanley.”
Stanley is free on a nonmonetary bond set in her case. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 12.