A Democratic petition signing event in Aliquippa was shut down by police tonight after a physical altercation broke out.
The petition signing was scheduled from 4-9 p.m. at the American Italian Club on Irwin Street. Aliquippa Democratic Party Chairman Joe West, who works as Assistant Director of the Beaver County Office of Planning and Redevelopment, organized the event.
West is running for Aliquippa City Council as part of a ticket with Councilman Matthew Mottes, who has announced he is running for Mayor in the Democratic primary against incumbent Dwan Walker. West is hoping to take a seat currently occupied by Dwan’s brother, Councilman Donald Walker.
The event featured Democratic political rivals competing head-to-head in one room for signatures of voters who showed up to meet the candidates.
Several of BeaverCountian.com’s trusted sources had warned earlier today about the potential for violence, and senior law enforcement officials in the county were also aware of the possibility of trouble.
Among those in attendance included Democratic sheriff candidates Wayne Kress and George David, as were Commissioner Tony Amadio and commissioner candidates Dennis Nichols and Julian Taylor. Also in attendance were Controller David Rossi and his announced Democratic primary challenger Candice McMunn, and recorder of deeds candidates Dee Dixon and Bobby Williams. Prothonotary candidate Ashley Rager-Trautman was also present.
Other county officials, including Prothonotary Nancy Werme (who is not seeking re-election) were also at the event to support their chosen candidates.
“Everyone was very cordial, very nice,” said West. “But when the city officials came in with some of their thugs things got volatile. It went off the rails. Anyone running for office against the Mayor, they got in your face, they wanted to intimidate you.”
West alleges he was threatened by Dwan Walker directly.
“The Mayor came up he said he wanted to hit me in my face, he shouldn’t do that,” said West. “That’s not becoming of a public official.”
Mottes said problems for him arose when he was notified about a post on Facebook made by one of the attendees, Catherine Colalella, who was there in support of Dwan and Donald Walker.
“We need all Aliquippa Democrats to come sign petitions at the American Italian Club… Matt Mottes and Joe West are petitioning to run against Mayor Walker and Donald Walker and supporting George David for Sheriff,” she wrote. “We need your support!!”
Mottes admitted to confronting Colalella at the event about her post on social media.
“I asked her please do not put lies on Facebook,” said Mottes. “She told me not to talk to her. I told her she was slandering me.”
Mottes said he threatened to file a lawsuit against Colalella if she did not remove her post.
“I am in no way supporting Georgie, that is not true. In no way shape or form is that true,” he said.
But in response to questioning by BeaverCountian.com, Mottes then admitted he had in fact signed George David’s petition, nominating him to be the Democratic candidate for sheriff.
“I’ve known the man my whole life,” said Mottes. “I signed it because I didn’t want to be disrespectful.”
Werme said she was standing close by when Mottes’ father then approached Colalella.
“I was standing there and Mottes went over to Catherine Colalella,” said Werme.
“He started yelling and she said, ‘get away from me,’ and then Mottes’ dad came over and asked her what her name was. She told him her name and he said ‘(f-you)’.”
“Everything was Mottes, he was the instigator on everything,” agreed Kress, who was also nearby.
“Mottes comes walking up to her getting in her face saying I’m going to sue you. She kept telling him to get away from her, get away from her, he kept coming back at her. His dad came over and started cussing at her. … Mottes and his dad were the aggressors inside.”
Werme said Colalella’s boyfriend then arrived to the event. She said things got heated, “It got so out of control somebody yelled to call the cops.”
Mottes admitted his father had used profanity towards Colalella, and said he moved him over to a table and sat him down when the woman’s boyfriend allegedly approached them.
“This guy walks up and says, ‘I want you to listen to me very carefully. This is going to get really bad for you.’ My dad told him to leave us alone and to get out of here. The guy walks away and was staring at my dad. Dwan and Donald go up to him, I could see Donald saying, ‘both of them,’ to the guy. I told my dad, come on, let’s get out of here. We walk all the way around to leave and the guy comes out the back door.”
There are conflicting reports about what happened when the men got outside and were joined by others, but everyone BeaverCountian.com spoke with agreed a physical altercation broke out and that Mottes’ father was hit at one point. When police arrived, Mottes was holding Colalella’s boyfriend on the ground to detain him.
“I saw blood coming from a guy’s mouth, I saw guys getting thrown to the ground, I saw punches being thrown,” said West. “There were four or five guys, my brother was trying to break it up.”
Among those who responded to a direct call from Dwan Walker was Police Chief Robert Sealock. Police received a 911 dispatch of a fight after the call made by Dwan.
Kress said he had believed the problems left when Mottes and his father did, and was unaware a fight occurred outside until police arrived and shut down the entire Democratic petition drive.
Mottes said it was mere seconds from the time he and his father left the building until police showed up. Mottes and his father went to the police station after the incident, as did several others who were present.
No criminal charges have been filed by police as of the time of this report.
“This is a shame, this is a shame. This is a political event. This is for voters, this shouldn’t have happened,” concluded West. “This election is going to be dangerous.”
Catherine Colalella did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Mayor Dwan Walker could not be reached for comment.