Gastonia, NC — Joshua Rohrer is an honorably discharged Army veteran who, like tens of thousands of other veterans, is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in Afghanistan. As a result of his illness, Rohrer hasn't been able to hold down a job and is homeless. As panhandling is illegal in the city, Rohrer simply sits on the street and waves to folks as they walk by — which ended in October with a violent encounter with police. Now, three months later and Rohrer is trying to prove his innocence, but the city is blocking the release of body camera footage.
Why? " Its "release may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person," among other things.
Last week, Superior Court Judge Stephan Furtrell denied the release of the body camera footage citing the following reasons.
- The recording contains information that is otherwise confidential or exempt from disclosure or release under state or federal law.
- Release would reveal information regarding a person that is of a highly sensitive personal nature.
- Release may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person.
- Release would create a series threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.
- Confidentiality is necessary to protect either an active or inactive internal or criminal investigation or potential internal or criminal investigation.
On October 13, Rohrer was doing what he normally did every day and was sitting at the intersection of Cox Road and Gaston Mall Drive around 6:30 p.m. with his dog. When a "concerned citizen" drove by and noticed Rohrer and his dog, she called police to report the homeless veteran for begging for money, and "using his service dog for sympathy."
"Is it legal for these adults to be standing on the intersection with a dog asking for money?" the caller asked, according to the recently released phone records. The woman, who can only be described as a "Karen," was hell bent on using police force to implement her will.
A homeless veteran who was chewed up and spit out by the system he dedicated his life to support, was so offensive to the caller that she demanded police remove him.
"There has got to be something somebody can do about this," the caller said. "This is bullcrap that they're using this poor animal!"
"How are they using the dog to get money?" the dispatcher asked.
"Okay, well that’s putting two and two together," the caller responded. "They’re using this dog to make people feel sorry for them to give them money."
The dog was not being exploited at all by Rohrer. The dog, Sunshine, was Rohrer's service animal to help him cope with his PTSD. However, thanks to the caller, who used police as a weapon against Rohrer, Sunshine is now dead.
Sunshine was placed with Rohrer’s Veterans Affairs advocate, who was taking care of her while Rohrer was in jail, but she got loose and got hit by a car.
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The "see something, say something" citizen got her wishes after calling 911 to report Rohrer and police were dispatched to arrest him. According to several witness, and a cellphone video, police violently assaulted Rohrer and his dog Sunshine.
Justyn Huffman and Nydia Conley told local media that they witnessed the arrest and watched in horror as police surrounded Rohrer and his dog.
"The officer asked him for his ID," Huffman said. "He wasn't moving fast enough so he tried to reach into his pocket to get his ID. They slammed him up against the car. They put cuffs on him."
According to WCNC, Huffman, Conley and another shopper said after the officers arrested Rohrer, his service dog Sunshine bit an officer's boot. That's when they claim one of the officers pulled out a stun gun and used it on the dog.
"We're out here screaming, 'Don't shoot the dog! Don't shoot the dog!' Huffman said.
Huffman explained that after she was tasered, Sunshine took off running and hid in a nearby store.
"[Rohrer] said, 'My dog! My dog!'" Huffman said. "They took him to the back of the police car and slammed him on the pavement."
That's when Conley began filming as more officers arrived on the scene.
"It was really traumatizing," Conley said. "I've never seen anything like that."
When Rohrer bonded out, he told local media that he wasn't begging for money, despite what the caller said. He was simply sitting there, which is not illegal at all.
“They proceeded to attack me and rough me up and use excessive force what I would consider police brutality," he said. “I wish that they would have been calm and listen to what I had to say instead of attacking me."
Now, Rohrer will have to defend himself against the charges as he stands trial for panhandling and resisting arrest — two things the body camera footage could prove did not happen.