A Pittsburgh artist faces felony burglary and criminal trespass charges over an alleged act of civil disobedience in which a black-and-gold Google flag that flew above the company’s Larimer headquarters went missing, and a Palestinian flag appeared in its place.

At the end of a Feb. 14 preliminary hearing for Pittsburgh resident Tanzim Syed Ahmed, age 30, Judge James Hanley, Jr., said, “I believe Mr. Ahmed was attempting to make a political statement.” 

“Unfortunately,” he continued, “it was in a location that was cordoned off and not accessible to the general public. He was not provided a key to that property. The Google flag is no longer there. So I’m going to hold these charges today.”

The charges: 

  • a first-degree felony burglary charge, for entering a structure with the intent to commit a crime; 
  • a third-degree felony criminal trespass charge, for gaining entry by subterfuge; 
  • a first-degree misdemeanor theft by unlawful taking charge, for the Google flag that flew above Google’s offices in the Bakery Square development, at the corner of Penn Avenue and East Liberty Boulevard, and went missing on the afternoon of Dec. 15, 2023.

Ownership of the Google flag was not clarified by city police nor the district attorney's office, nor was the flag’s ownership established at the preliminary hearing.

Google did not respond to three separate emailed requests for comment. Gregg Perelman, founding partner and CEO of Walnut Capital, which owns and manages Bakery Square, said the flag’s ownership was “clear” and that “someone” owned it, but he would not specify.

Ahmed, whose formal arraignment is April 2, is the birth name of Pittsburgh-based artist Zim Syed. According to Pittsburgh art mag Petrichor, in a review of Syed’s March 1 pop-up exhibition, “Legal Defense Fund,” the artist was born in Atlanta and spent his childhood in the USA, UAE and Bangladesh. In 2023, he was awarded both a Radiant Hall x Boom Concepts residency and Brew House Art’s “Distillery” residency.

A promotional flier for the exhibition describes it as a show “about trying to stay out of jail” and a reflection of the artist’s mental state “as he deals with punitive action alongside a backdrop of an on-going genocide” over an alleged incident involving a Palestinian flag.

Ahmed declined to comment on the charges against him. The most severe charge, F1 burglary, carries a minimum sentencing range of 16 to 22 months incarceration.


According to a transcript of Ahmed’s preliminary hearing, Bakery Square Security Supervisor Joshua Brown received a call on Friday, Dec. 15, 2023, from “the owner of Walnut Capital” telling him there were social media posts that showed “there was a Palestinian flag flying where the Google flag should be flying,” and that Brown should review security footage.

Brown testified that the footage showed an individual, whom he later identified as the defendant, follow someone through a service entrance and make their way up a stairwell whose door had been propped open, past Google offices on the seventh floor and up toward the roof. After 12 minutes, the same individual reappeared from the direction they had exited, and their backpack “seemed full, like there was something he shoved in it.”

Ahmed’s public defender, Valerie Daigneault, objected to Brown’s testimony as “speculation” as he wasn’t there at the time, nor were there surveillance cameras on the roof. She also objected, among other things, to the fact that the footage itself was not presented–only Brown’s attestation of what he saw.

Preliminary hearings are to determine if there is enough evidence to hold a defendant for trial. They have a lower burden of proof than a criminal trial, and defendants rarely testify, although their legal representation may cross-examine prosecution witnesses. (The hearing began with the assistant district attorney, Lauren McDevitt, withdrawing a second-degree criminal trespass charge against Ahmed, for “breaking into” a structure, and replacing it with a lower, third-degree felony charge, “entry by subterfuge.”)

Brown testified that a lead came when he used surveillance footage to track the same person to Bakery Square restaurant City Kitchen, where they allegedly paid a tab with a card earlier that afternoon. He notified Bakery Square ownership of the discovery, and they got a transaction receipt with a name and looked up the individual on social media. 

Brown testified that he and Perelman turned this information over to Detective John Adams, “who runs our police detail at Bakery Square.”

At the preliminary hearing, Adams testified that he was “employed by the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police as a detective” on the day of the incident. He did not disclose, nor was he asked about, any potential relationship with Bakery Square or Walnut Capital.

Four days after the incident, Adams requested a crime scene unit search for DNA and fingerprints on the handle of the door that led to Bakery Square’s roof, according to an incident report written by Detective John Hamilton, who collected the evidence, including the Palestinian flag that appeared where the Google flag once flew.

In the criminal complaint, Adams wrote that he and two other detectives attempted to locate Ahmed at his home address, before calling him and urging him to surrender, telling him that “it wasn’t the crime of the century.” He also testified that Ahmed, when reached by telephone, told him, “I went through two open doors and put up a flag.”

Adams wrote in his affidavit that in addition to Ahmed’s Facebook page, Perelman also supplied him with an Instagram post that showed a Palestinian flag flying above Bakery Square. The photo, dated Dec. 15, attracted more than 800 likes and three dozen comments, most expressing solidarity with the action and the Palestinian people, and a few that were critical of Google, the company’s work on the IDF-affiliated cloud computing effort, Project Nimbus, and Bakery Square itself.

Adams reported that Perelman said that “the actions of the suspect, and the subsequent social media postings, have been damaging to the Bakery Square and Walnut Capital businesses and their reputations.”

Reached by phone on March 12, Perelman declined to comment on the incident or statements made at the preliminary hearing, telling the Independent to look at the court testimony, saying “the facts are there.”

According to Adams’ report, Perelman estimated the flag would cost $1,000 to replace. Asked by the Independent to confirm the flag’s value, Perelman said “It doesn't matter the value. It’s not the point. It has nothing to do with the value.”