*This story was corrected on October 12, 2022
Joshua Rohrer, a homeless veteran with PTSD, was arrested Oct. 13, 2021, for panhandling and resisting arrest. During the struggle with police, Rohrer’s dog, Sunshine, was tazed in the struggle. The officer involved says the dog bit his boot. The Gastonia Police Department maintains their officers acted appropriately, while Rohrer said officers were not be truthful about the incident.
Now, with the body-cam footage released on July 28 by order of a Gaston County judge, the public can view the incident and make up their minds.
The body-cam footage of the incident was released in two separate videos, parts one and two, by the Gastonia Police Department on their YouTube channel. The police encounter with Rohrer begins to escalate around the 18-minute mark in part one. After the officers were unsatisfied with the identification produced by Rohrer, he was placed in handcuffs and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, Rohrer’s service dog joined in the fray.
Officer Maurice Taylor can be heard saying, “Call your dog off. Call your dog off.” He later says, “It bit my foot, and I knew it would bite you,” to another officer on scene, explaining why he tazed the dog. The dog did not show any signs of aggression before the incident and can be seen running away from the scene upon being hit with the stun gun.
CJ recently spoke with Rohrer following the release of the body cam footage.
“I think it’s about time that they finally released it,” Rohrer said. “I’m glad we don’t have to fight for it anymore. We shouldn’t have had to fight for it in the first place, especially if they [Gastonia Police] were all about transparency like they said they were in that emergency petition. Luckily the judge was all for full transparency and released all of the videos, otherwise we might not have gotten them and would have had to continue fighting for them. I’m glad that it’s out there now that the public can see what they did by violating my rights and tazing sunshine. They escalated a situation they shouldn’t have while being familiar with my situation as a disabled veteran with extreme PTSD and a service dog.”
Rohrer said that he is happy that he can clear his name and bring justice for Sunshine.
“Now people can see the police lied and Sunshine did nothing wrong. She was doing exactly what she was trained to do which was help me and they prevented her from doing that. They interfered with the work of a service animal and brought harm to a service animal while also separating my service dog from me. It just shows their criminal actions and now they can be held accountable. I’m glad it’s out now so that it clears my name and clears Sunshine’s name so I can get justice for her.”
Following the release of the footage, the Gastonia Police Department published a statement via their Facebook page detailing the court proceedings which led to the release and the actions of the officers and of Rohrer on the date of the incident.
“A Gaston County grand jury twice reviewed the charges against Mr. Rohrer stemming from his October 13 arrest and found probable cause for those charges. City of Gastonia Code Section 6-228 prohibits soliciting or accepting contributions while in a street or median from the occupants of a stopped vehicle. North Carolina General Statute §14-223 makes it a misdemeanor to willfully and unlawfully resist, delay or obstruct a public officer in discharging or attempting to discharge an official duty.”
The statement continued, “On October 9, Officer Taylor III encountered Rohrer in the median on Gaston Mall Drive at Cox Road. Officer Taylor III warned Rohrer that he could not stand in the median, but could stand on the sidewalk. During a second interaction several minutes later after Rohrer moved to the sidewalk, Officer Taylor III spoke with Rohrer about Rohrer’s military service and checked to see if Rohrer was aware of and receiving any services that are available to veterans. The City is pleased that the resolution of Mr. Rohrer’s charges includes his participation in Catawba County’s Veteran Treatment Court where he can receive services specifically tailored to his needs. The City of Gastonia Police Department’s internal review of this incident was conducted pursuant to established policy and no relatives of either officer were involved.”
The Libertarian Party of North Carolina, among other groups, has been advocating for Joshua since his arrest and for the release of the body cam footage. In a statement published via their website, the organization was glad to see the footage finally released.
“The Libertarian Party of North Carolina is pleased that the City of Gastonia has finally released the body camera footage from the October 13, 2021, arrest of homeless Iraq war veteran Joshua Rohrer,” said Joe Garcia, party chair. “This most basic level of transparency will allow public scrutiny to hold the police accountable for their treatment of the most defenseless among us. We look forward to supporting Joshua in whatever action he chooses to take next.
“While we applaud the release of the body camera footage as a positive step, we are painfully cognizant of the fact that the release of these videos required nearly 10 months of public pressure and legal wrangling,” Garcia added. “We will continue to push for police accountability and broader criminal justice reform, and we look forward to working with all liberty-minded people in our relentless defense of basic human rights.”
CJ reached out to Rohrer’s attorney, Andrew LaBreche for comment. LaBreche could not be reached in time for publication.
Note: This story was corrected on October 12, 2022 to reflect that Sunshine slipped away from the caregivers watching her during Rohrer’s jail stay and was hit by a car.