A police department in North Carolina is feeling the heat following the release of body camera footage, revealing the mistreatment of a homeless veteran that resulted in the man’s service dog being killed.
The 2021 incident involved a Gastonia Police encounter with Joshua Graham Rohrer, a Kentucky Army National Guard veteran who deployed to Kuwait and Iraq between 2004 and 2005.
During the encounter, Rohrer’s Belgian Malinois service dog, Sunshine Rae, was tased- resulting in the dog running into the street and being hit by a car.
The police engaged Rohrer in response to a call about panhandling.
During the arrest, police claim Sunshine bit one of the officers, as bystanders argue that Rohrer has “been out here for months, [and] his dog has never attacked anybody.”
Sunshine was subsequently not transported with Rohrer, and was killed after an officer tased her for appearing as if she would bite his partner.
“Sunshine was not acting erratically, in fact, she performed 3 separate trained tasks in the video,” Rohrer said. “Her attempt to get to my face to perform grounding techniques, her attempt to become a passive barrier between myself and Officer Brooks; and passively blocking between myself and Officer Taylor.”
Rohrer has since been traumatized by the death of his canine partner.
“The release of the body camera footage involving myself and Sunshine, has been a long arduous journey,” Rohrer said in a statement to Military Times. “The release of the video is as traumatic as the event itself. I hope now that it has been released I can begin to grieve my friend, my confidant, my world. I thank those who have believed in me and supported me for the past nine months.”
The incident has sparked uproar, particularly after demand for body camera footage revealed what attorneys cite as police mishandling the situation.
“It is rare for a client’s claims that initially appear so sensational to be entirely accurate. After I was finally able to review the body camera footage, however, Mr. Rohrer’s statements were all correct, but what was reflected in recordings were, in fact, far worse than what Mr. Rohrer was able to hear and see on the scene,” Attorney Andrew LaBreche said.
According to the Army Times, LaBreche also believes the video proves officers were not truthful regarding their handling of Rohrer’s arrest and hopes that the release of the bodycam footage will force the Gastonia Police Department to revisit the incident.
“I hope to continue to fight for better crisis intervention training, protections for service animals and their handlers, and justice for what was done to Sunshine,” Rohrer said. “In addition, this case highlights the need for reform of North Carolina’s Body Camera Laws. No citizen should have to fight so hard and for so long as we have for the truth.”
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