Readers may have noticed that the Lincoln Herald did not publish the story about bodycam video of the arrest of Joshua Rohrer last October on Thursday (July 28th). We have seen many, many comments on social media about the video and Rohrer's arrest. We also watched (online) all of the reports from Charlotte tv stations.
Most of those showed only a selected portion of one of the videos that supported the angle they took in reporting the story.
Joshua Graham Rohrer is a disabled veteran (he served in the National Guard). Rohrer suffers from PTSD and says he dog was prescribed as a companion service animal to help him with that problem.
Police had received complaints about Rohrer and his dog panhandling in the middle of the road that leads of E. Franklin Blvd. into the shopping center that includes Target, Dick's Sporting Goods, and other stores.
Police warned Rohrer on October 9th that he could not be standing in the middle of the road. Rohrer insisted he wasn't begging but that people voluntarily gave him money. He stood on the median with his dog, Sunshine Rae, which he dressed in military-like gear. HE often wave both arms. When people offered him money, he would step off the median to accept it.
On October 13th, police were called back to the location after complaints that Rohrer had ignored their earlier warning and was back in the road.
The incident of that day resulted in Rohrer being arrested. His dog was tazed after one of the officers said it snapped at his boot and appeared to him to be a potential threat to his partner.
The dog was given to someone in Cleveland County to keep while Rohrer was in jail. It ran into the road there and was struck and killed by a car.
The incident became a social media phenomenon.
At the time of his arrest, Rohrer had been living in a homeless encampment near the Target and other Gaston Mall stores. He claimed he wasn't panhandling, said people just asked him about his dog and voluntarily offered him food and money.
Rallies were held in support of Rohrer and condemnation of the police and multiple persons appeared at a Gastonia City Council meeting including the minister who had operated a homeless shelter at a church that was closed due to fire code violations. Rohrer became the subject of tv news reports across the Carolinas.
A GoFundMe account was established for Rohrer
https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-homeless-vet-reunite-with-his-dog-sunshine which had raised $32,105 by Thursday (July 28th). An accounting of how some of that money had been spent was posted there on January 1, 2022. $3,500 had been spent for Rohrer's bond, $4,790 for legal fees to try to obtain the body-cam footage, $7,100 for a downpayment on a camper, a warranty and taxes (Rohrer moved into the camper in Cleveland County after his release on October 14th--according to Gaston County Jail records.) The accounting continues: $500 for a camper lot, $800 for two months of camper payments, $600 for groceries (2x), $2,500 set aside for body-cam review and transcriptions, and $700 for GoFundMe fees.
On two occasions the Gaston County Grand Jury found probable cause to support the charges against Rohrer but pursuant to an arrangement with the Gaston County District Attorney’s Office, Rohrer pled guilty to an unrelated charge of Driving While License Revoked (DWLR) on July 6th, 2022. The presiding District Court Judge sentenced Rohrer to a probationary term of twenty-four months on the condition that he participates in the Catawba County Veterans’ Treatment Court. In exchange for his guilty plea and participation in the Veterans’ Treatment Court, the District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges stemming from the October 13th, 2021 arrest.
Rohrer now has another dog he got in December. He's living in the camper in Cleveland County. Rohrer's attorney had sought release of the Oct. 13th bodycam video, but objected to the release of the video from Oct. 9th. In North Carolina, release of police bodycam video is not up to police, but may be ordered by a judge. Gastonia Police filed a petition requesting release of both sets of videos and they were released this week.
At last week's Gastonia City Council meeting, most of the Public Comments portion was people criticizing police and supporting Rohrer. Interestingly, most of those who spoke were not from Gastonia. Some came from Raleigh and one from Creedmoor in Granville County.
It is unfortunate that law enforcement officers are often called upon to handle situations involving people with mental problems. While they may have had some training for handling such situations, they are not mental health professionals.
At least two incidents that happened in Lincoln County come to mind. One of those involved a young man who had threatened to kill his mother and had been stopped at Atrium Health-Lincoln by security officers. He spat in the face of a deputy sheriff and got punched. The deputy later left the Sheriff's Office.
In another, a young man had an episode on the third floor of the historic Lincoln County Courthouse. He ran into a wall and caused an injury to his own head. Deputies restrained him until EMTs could arrive. While some complained about the deputies conduct, an attorney who witnessed a part of the incident said they handled it well.
Another incident involved a man who shot at deputies near Crouse and was shot and killed. He may well have been experiencing a mental health issue.
Could police have handled the Gastonia incident better? Likely. The officers were responding to a public complaint about a man (Rohrer) begging and impeding traffic. Rohrer, as shown in the videos, argued with police. He ignored their Oct. 9th warning, leading to the Oct. 13th incident.
Since the incident, one of the two officers has resigned; the other is still working with the Gastonia Police Department.
We have no doubt tha there are many occasions across the country where police may have used excessive force and may not have handled situations (especially those involving people with mental problems) well.
We're probably asking too much of our law enforcement officers. It is often them rather than EMTs who handle drug overdoses. We expect them to become 'doctors' and in cases such as Rohrer's mental health professionals.
While Rohrer may not have been treated well, the results of the October 2021 incidents may have turned out well for him. He lost his other dog, but he has another. He is no longer homeless--living in the woods. He is now in a treatment program that may also help him. He obviously has made a lot of new 'friends,' although most of them don't know much about him and once his celebrity of the moment has worn off may not be friends after all.
The City of Gastonia has lost one officer, and the result of this incident may influence the other officer in future situations. Officers put their lives on the line every day and finding and keeping qualified officers has become much more difficult in recent years. The negative publicity, while in some cases justified, certainly has an effect.
Law enforcement needs a backup system for handling these problems--both mental cases and drugs. Beyond securing the scene and making sure any threat to people or property has been lessened, they should have someone they can call who is professionally trained fof just such situations.
For those who have only seen the tv reports on the bodycam videos, you can view them on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Taa34d1xF5M and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1AsBGH8vrA.
The Gastonia Police Department issued the following news release when the bodycam videos were released:
On July 27, 2022, Superior Court Judge David A. Phillips heard petitions for the Release of Law Enforcement recordings from both Joshua Rohrer as well as from District Attorney Travis Page and the City of Gastonia. Judge Phillips granted both petitions. The City has made the recordings from October 9 and October 13 available on the Gastonia Police Department’s YouTube site.
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.
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.