The scene on a busy Gastonia road last fall took mere seconds to devolve, as two police officers confronted a homeless Iraq War veteran and one shocked the man’s dog with a stun gun, according to body-worn camera video released Thursday by Gastonia Police. A Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered the release as requested by veteran Joshua Rohrer, Gaston County District Attorney Travis Page and the City of Gastonia, police said in a news release that included the footage. The October encounter prompted community complaints and outrage on social media about the treatment of the veteran and his dog, Sunshine, and led to the disciplining of an officer who responded that day.
OFFICERS TASE VETERAN’S DOG
Police on Thursday released more than two hours of video from the encounter.
The video shows Rohrer standing in a narrow, raised median on Gaston Mall Drive at Cox Road as Officer Cierra Brooks drives up and tells him: “I just saw you take money from that car.” “Yeah, you saw me take money, but you didn’t see me ask for it,” Rohrer replies. “It’s called panhandling,” Brooks tells him. “But it’s not panhandling if I didn’t ask for it,” Rohrer tells her.
“Give me your ID or you’re going to jail for resist, delay or obstruct,” Brooks tells him. “There’s no city ordinance that says somebody can’t give me money,” Rohrer replies. Officer Maurice Taylor III drives up and reminds Rohrer that he asked the veteran on a previous visit not to stand in the median. In the video, Rohrer’s dog stands alone on a blanket at the end of the median, away from its owner and the officers, as if confused by what’s happening. When Taylor asks for his state identification, Rohrer pulls out his Veteran Administration ID card and extends it to the officers. Taylor tells him again to show his state ID, according to the video. When Rohrer raises the VA card again, the officers grab him and one tells him: “Turn around, you’re being arrested.”
The officers hold Rohrer by his shoulder and a hand as he screams and yells to anyone nearby. “Anybody see this,” he screams. “Somebody help me!” “What are you doing!” he shouts as Brooks holds him against a patrol car. A snap sound is then heard in the video. “Call your dog off,” Taylor says. “Call your dog off.”
Sunshine jumps from the median onto a patrol car and barks one time. The video next shows Brooks holding Rohrer down on road as Taylor calls for more units. “Why are you doing this?” Rohrer screams. “Somebody help me! Record this!”
Taylor has by now Tased the dog, as he tells Brooks: “It bit my foot, and I knew it was going to bite you. It bit my boot.” A woman bystander approaches the officers and tells them Rohrer “is not harming anybody. He’s out here every day.” At the time of the incident, a police spokesperson confirmed that officers Tased the 2-year-old Belgian Malinois during the Oct. 13 incident, WBTV reported. Sunshine scampered off. Days later, she was found dead, hit by a car, multiple media outlets reported.
Rohrer, a former Kentucky National Guardsman, was arrested at the scene and charged with two misdemeanor counts of resisting an officer, a misdemeanor count of begging for money and a solicit from highway infraction, Gaston County Jail records show. A city ordinance prohibits “soliciting or accepting contributions while in a street or median” from a stopped vehicle, police said.
He was freed the next afternoon on $3,000 bail, according to the records. Friends posted his bail, according to a GoFundMe site that in just days raised $13,250 from 350 donors. Rohrer planned to use the money for his legal fees, housing costs and mental health treatment. Rohrer suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the fundraising page established by friend Gina Ramsey.
‘I FOUGHT FOR MY COUNTRY’
Gaston County Police later released a 911 call from a citizen who complained about a man “using” a dog to get money, WBTV reported.
Rohrer denied the accusation during interviews with Charlotte-area news media. He told WBTV that he was merely walking at the intersection, “smiling, waving and chatting” with passers-by. “I fought for my country,” he told the station. “I fought for everybody’s freedom, and I feel like a freedom we should have is being able to walk where we please, as long as it’s not private property, no trespassing.”
Two witnesses to the Oct. 13 encounter told WCNC that officers “slammed him up against” a patrol car and handcuffed Rohrer. The witnesses said an officer Tased Sunshine after she nipped the officer’s boot, according to the station. Rohrer was so distraught over Sunshine’s death that he “tried throwing himself in front of any car that he could,” friend and fellow veteran Dave Dowell of Shelby told Military Times last fall. At an Oct. 22 community rally, dozens of supporters lined Gaston Mall Drive near the scene of the encounter to memorialize Sunshine.
After Rohrer’s arrest, police said, Gaston County Animal Care and Enforcement took custody of Sunshine and later released the dog to a friend of Rohrer’s choosing. “That friend took Sunshine to a home in Cleveland County,” police said in the statement. “According to posts made on social media by friends of Mr. Rohrer, Sunshine left the premises where she was being temporarily housed, entered a roadway, and was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.” “The Department fully understands the emotional impact that this entire incident, which includes the reported death of Sunshine, has had on all parties who are directly involved in this case,” police said. “The Department also fully understands the emotional impact that this case has had on the local community and on the United States military community.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OFFICERS?
Brooks received a three-day disciplinary suspension without pay in January, and Taylor resigned in February, the Gaston Gazette reported. Brooks had posted on Facebook that Rohrer’s backers sounded “dumb as hell,” according to the Gazette, although the department refused to say why she was suspended. On July 6, Rohrer’s panhandling and resisting arrest charges were dismissed, the Gazette reported, although he was sentenced to two years of supervised probation after pleading guilty to an unrelated charge of driving while his license was revoked