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

The arrest of Joshua Rohrer sparked protests in the city and demands for body camera video.

GASTONIA, N.C. — The veteran whose October 2021 arrest by the Gastonia Police Department was captured on viral video has now reached a plea agreement that will see charges stemming from the incident dismissed.

On Wednesday, the department said Joshua Rohrer had reached an agreement with the Gaston County District Attorney's Office to resolve the case. The department characterized the agreement as beneficial to both Rohrer and Gastonia's residents.

“Since Mr. Rohrer’s arrest, the Gastonia Police Department has been in regular contact with District Attorney (Travis) Page and we have been working diligently to find an appropriate resolution to this case," said police chief Travis Brittain. "We are satisfied with today’s plea arrangement and we are pleased that Mr. Rohrer has agreed to participate in the Catawba County Veterans Court where he can receive services specifically tailored to his needs.”

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The District Attorney's Office said Rohrer was originally arrested on Oct. 13, 2021, and charged with soliciting alms, soliciting from a highway, and two counts of resisting a public officer. During the arrest, police officers used a stun gun on Rohrer's service dog, Sunshine. While Rohrer was in custody, Sunshine ended up escaping from a caretaker and was killed by a car.

The office said Rohrer's charges were presented to a grand jury on two occasions, and both times probable cause was found to support his charges. However, the agreement reached with Rohrer saw him plead guilty to an unrelated charge of driving while license revoked on Wednesday. The presiding District Court judge handed down a 24-month probationary term to Rohrer on the condition he participates in the Catawba County Veterans Treatment Court. In exchange, all of his charges tied to his arrest will be dropped.

Arrest sparks protests

Rohrer's arrest in October 2021 led to protests and calls for accountability led by community members. His mother and his Veterans Affairs (VA) advocate said Rohrer served in the Army and faced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving overseas.

Community members who knew Rohrer said he never really bothered anyone, and one couple who witnessed his arrest took video of what happened. The couple accused the police of escalating the situation unnecessarily. Rohrer was eventually able to view the body camera footage of his arrest but continued to say the Gastonia Police Department was lying about what actually happened.

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Up through April 2022, community members still continued to demand accountability from the police department. Rohrer also said he wanted to speak about the incident to the Gastonia City Council during a meeting, but claimed City Hall was filled with workers and police officers prevented them from entering. Eventually, Rohrer and his supporters were allowed to enter, but only one person was allowed to speak.

In the days following his arrest, the call to police that led to Rohrer's arrest was released. The caller was upset and claimed Rohrer was using Sunshine to solicit money by making people feel sorry for them.

WCNC Charlotte filed a petition for the body camera footage to be released in November 2021. A month later, a judge denied the request. Superior Court Judge Stephan Furtrell's ruling said the footage contained information deemed otherwise confidential or exempt from disclosure or release under state or federal law, would reveal information about someone that was highly sensitive, could harm a person's reputation, create a series threat to fair justice, and needed to remain confidential to protect the then-ongoing investigation.

Rohrer, attorney respond

Early in the evening on Wednesday, Rorher and his attorney Andrew LaBreche spoke with WCNC Charlotte to discuss the plea agreement. LaBreche said while he's happy Rorher won't face charges upon completing the veterans court program, he still wished more could have played out in the courtroom.

"It's sort of a mixed feeling because there's no charges or there's no risk of an adverse decision, but at the same time the officers are not going to be able to be on the stand," he said. "The video won't be played in public as of right now to show exactly how egregious their actions actually work."

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LaBreche said the grand jury hearings, which are secret, don't allow for cross-examination and don't allow for the truthfulness of any party to be questioned. However, he did say the Gaston County District Attorney's Office planned to release the video to Rohrer soon. 

WCNC Charlotte has reached out to the office to confirm this and for further comment.

As for Rorher, he's still trying to process the day itself. He said it started out stressful when officers at the courthouse requested to see the certification for his new service dog, but at the end of the day he said he was still working on the next steps for him.

"I mean, it's a step forward. And I still want justice for Sunshine, that was not a part of that plea agreement," he said. "But it's definitely a step forward."

Rorher also said he was happy to be able to go through Catawba County's veterans treatment court program because he was able to get the resources he needed for treating his PTSD. Dave Dowell, who is Rohrer's peer mentor in the program, said it needs to be expanded in the state.

"There's over 400 of these courts across the country," he said, "but here in North Carolina, there's only 11 out of 100 counties. And that's a challenge. It's a funding challenge, it's a logistics challenge to get one of these into every county."

Rorher also shared his thanks with the citizens who rallied around them.

"There's been an amazing amount of support. And without that, I wouldn't be sitting here right now," he said. "So I am forever indebted to them for that."

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