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Gastonia officers will not face charges in homeless veteran's arrest, DA says

In a statement, Gaston County District Attorney Travis Page said Officers Brooks and Taylor committed no acts of criminal wrongdoing during the arrest.

GASTONIA, N.C. — The Gaston County District Attorney's Office said it will not charge officers involved in the controversial arrest of a homeless veteran last October.

In July, a judge ordered Gastonia police to release the video of Joshua Rohrer's October 2021 arrest. Rohrer was arrested on charges of panhandling and resisting arrest during the incident. In the body camera footage, Officer Maurice Taylor claims Rohrer's service dog, Sunshine, bit his boot. When Sunshine gets close to Officer Cierra Brooks and a distressed Rohrer, Taylor deploys his stun gun, hitting the dog.

RELATED: Gastonia police release body camera footage of homeless veteran's controversial arrest

Sunshine survived the Oct. 13 encounter with police but died days later after being struck by a car. At the time, she was in the care of Rohrer's veteran advocate.

During this week's Gastonia City Council meeting, District Attorney Travis Page provided the following statement regarding the incident:

Following the release of the Gastonia Police Department body worn camera footage, there have been questions posed as to whether the officers involved would face a criminal investigation and/or criminal charges.

Immediately after first reviewing this footage in 2021, I consulted with the state Bureau of investigation about a criminal investigation. I was of the opinion then, and remain of the opinion, that Officers Brooks and Taylor Committed no acts of criminal wrongdoing.

I believe then, as I believe now, that the only criminal acts depicted in the body cam footage of October 13, 2021 were committed by Joshua Rohrer, who resisted, delayed, and obstructed the actions of officers Brooks and Taylor. On two occasions, a grand jury found probable cause to support those allegations.

My Office’s dismissal of the relevant charges as part of a plea agreement was in no way a repudiation or negative reflection of the actions of the officers involved; in fact, it was an act of mercy given to a veteran with a very concerning criminal history in hopes that he would receive the assistance he dearly needs.

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Rohrer accused the police of lying about what happened, saying what stood out most to him was when Officer Taylor used his stun gun on Sunshine after the officer claimed the dog bit his boot. 

In the body camera video, there is no video of the dog biting Officer Taylor. However, Taylor can be heard telling a supervisor the dog bit his boot but the boot was not pierced. 

RELATED: No jail time for veteran at center of controversial arrest by Gastonia Police

In July, Rohrer reached a plea agreement on July 6 that saw all charges related to the incident dropped. The district attorney's office said Rohrer's charges were presented to a grand jury twice with probable cause being found to support the charges on both occasions. However, the agreement reached with Rohrer saw him plead guilty to an unrelated charge of driving with a revoked license. The department characterized the agreement as beneficial to both Rohrer and Gastonia's residents.

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Thursday evening, Rohrer sent the following statement to WCNC Charlotte reporter Julia Kauffman:

“The statement from Gaston County DA Travis Page continues to exemplify the reason the citizens of Gaston County, of North Carolina, and of the Nation continue to have grave concerns about policing and the justice system in our Country. Being homeless, exercising Constitutional protected activties and providing a valid idenification is far from a criminal act. In addition to my arrest, the arrest of Scotty Reid for documenting a protest on a public sidewalk shows that DA Travis Page has no desire to uphold the Constitution and use a broken justice system to maintain the status quo in Gaston County.

Millions of people across social media have seen the tasing of Sunshine and continue to question the actions of Officer Taylor and Officer Brooks. The North Carolina statute is clear, "Any person who knows or has reason to know that an animal is a law enforcement agency animal, an assistance animal, or a search and rescue animal and who willfully causes or attempts to cause serious harm to the animal is guilty of a Class I felony. North Carolina GS 14-163.1(b)" Sunshine did not bite Officer Taylor and Officer Taylor covered up his willfully malicious actions by lying about being bitten. I will continue to work towards getting justice for Sunshine, and educating the public and Law Enforcement on Service Animal Laws and Access Rights. I will not stop fighting for my rights."

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