GASTONIA, N.C. — Several people gathered Thursday evening to protest an arrest made by the Gastonia Police Department, where witnesses claimed officers roughed up a homeless Army veteran and his service dog.
Officers were called to the intersection of Cox Road and Gaston Mall Drive around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday for a complaint about a panhandler. Officers booked Joshua Rohrer on charges of illegal begging for money and resisting arrest.
Both Rohrer's mother and his Veterans Affairs (VA) advocate, David Dowell, told WCNC Charlotte that Rohrer is an Army veteran who is battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving overseas.
Crystal Rogers said Rohrer always sat at the median with his service dog.
"He was a good man," Rogers said. "He was always polite. He always asked me how my day was and I'd ask him about his."
Justyn Huffman and Nydia Conley similarly praised Rohrer and said he never bothered drivers. The couple said they saw Rohrer surrounded by officers Wednesday evening.
"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."
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 said Sunshine ran to a nearby store with one of the prongs dangling off her body.
"[Rohrer] said, 'My dog! My dog!'" Huffman said. "They took him to the back of the police car and slammed him on the pavement."
Conley shot cell phone video after more officers arrived at the scene.
"It was really traumatizing," Conley said. "I've never seen anything like that."
Huffman, Conley and Rohrer came back to the intersection on Thursday morning to protest Rohrer's arrest.
"We're trying to do anything we can," Huffman said. "I wish the police would have that mindset."
WCNC Charlotte met with Rohrer hours after he bonded out. He said what happened to him was traumatizing.
“They proceeded to attack me and rough me up and use excessive force what I would consider police brutality," he said.
According to Rohrer, he believes somebody called the police claiming he was asking for money. He said he wasn't and was trying to comply with officers to show them his identification.
At some point, Rohrer said the situation escalated and Sunshine ran off.
“She’s very sweet, she’s very well trained," Rohrer said. "She’s very scared right now."
The Gastonia Police Department told WCNC Charlotte they're aware of the call for service, and they're reviewing the arrest to see if all the department's policies and procedures were properly followed.
For Rohrer, he wishes the encounter went a different direction.
“I wish that they would have been calm and listen to what I had to say instead of attacking me," he said.
Dowell, Rohrer's VA advocate, said after the arrest, he brought Sunshine to his home in Shelby, but Sunshine was able to escape.
After Rohrer's family helped bond him out of jail, Rohrer and Dowell were trying to find the dog, and they asked for people to be on the lookout for her.
In a Facebook post on Oct. 16, it was announced that the service dog, Sunshine was hit and killed.