Friday, October 29, 2021

‘She was just doing her job’: Homeless vet loses service dog during arrest for panhandling

Joshua Graham Rohrer, a homeless veteran in North Carolina, says he was wrongfully arrested and mistreated by Gastonia police officers, who also tased his service dog Sunshine, sparking support from those who witnessed the incident.

The Gastonia Police Department told Military Times that although Rohrer will go to court for the charges against him, the department is now looking into the incident to “determine if the conduct of our officers was appropriate.”

Rohrer was standing on a median near a Gastonia shopping center with Sunshine on Oct. 13 when a 911 caller contacted police. While Rohrer wasn’t bothering anybody, having Sunshine with him was his way of using sympathy to get money from people, the caller said, according to a copy of the audio call.

Even though Rohrer wasn’t armed or harassing passersby, according to witnesses at the scene, the encounter would ultimately end with his arrest and Sunshine’s death.

Rohrer deployed to Kuwait and Iraq from October 2004 to November 2005 with the Kentucky Army National Guard. He suffers from service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder, and his 2-year-old Belgian Malinois Sunshine was his Veterans Affairs-prescribed treatment, according to an official letter from the VA provided to Military Times by Rohrer.

He said he wasn’t doing anything illegal on Oct. 13.

“I was just standing there, waving at people, when this lady waved me over and offered me money,” Rohrer told Military Times. “I was accused of falsely using my dog to get money from people and asking people for money but that’s not true.”

Rohrer said that as soon as he took the money offered to him, the police drove up, “aggressively, with the lights on and everything.”

The officer asked for Rohrer’s ID card and told him that she’d be giving him a ticket for panhandling. The act, which falls under the term solicitation in North Carolina state law, is considered illegal if an individual verbally panhandles at night, or at any time of day when within 20 feet of a financial institution, outdoor dining area or transit stop.

Rohrer argued that he wasn’t doing anything wrong, and the officer on scene called for back-up. Police asked Rohrer to produce a valid state ID, which Rohrer said he didn’t have, stating that he only had a VA card.

Justyn Huffman and Nydia Conley witnessed Rohrer’s arrest, telling local TV station WCNC that they saw officers surround Rohrer during the Oct. 13 encounter.

“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 and they put cuffs on him.”

Sunshine, responding to his distress, jumped up on the hood trying to help him, Rohrer said.

“She was just doing her job, licking me and trying to calm me down,” Rohrer said. “The cops starting yelling at her and me, telling me to get her to settle down but they wouldn’t allow me to physically get control of her.”

Sunshine was Rohrer's 2-year-old Belgian Malinois service dog

Rohrer said Sunshine nipped at one of the officer’s ankles as she was hopping down from the hood of the car, prompting the officer to tase her.

“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 taser prongs dangling off her body while police took Rohrer to the back of the car and “slammed him on the pavement.”

“It was really traumatizing,” Conley said. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

According to the police report, Rohrer was arrested on charges of solicitation and resisting arrest.

As he was taken away by police for booking, Rohrer said he begged the officers to let Sunshine come with him. He cited a North Carolina statute that affords people with disabilities the right to keep their service dogs with them, especially in cases where the individual’s health is at risk.

“They laughed at me,” he said. “I begged them to bring her to me or to give her to an officer to take with them but they wouldn’t listen, they didn’t care.”

Rohrer never saw Sunshine again. While his friend and fellow veteran Dave Dowell was able to get his hands on the service dog that night, she later slipped her leash and ran away while Rohrer was still in jail,.

He was released the next day after posting bail and facing more insensitive treatment by the police, saying they laughed at him and continually told him how horrible of a person he was, Rohrer claimed. He immediately began searching for his dog. After nearly two days, Sunshine was found in nearby Shelby, where Dowell lives.

She had been hit by a car and killed.

“I begged them not to separate us,” Rohrer said. “They didn’t care about me or about her or about the fact that I needed her.”

Rohrer’s grief over losing Sunshine almost killed him, Dowell said to Military Times. According to Dowell, Rohrer took off into traffic after learning Sunshine was gone, and tried throwing himself in front of any car that he could.

“He absolutely lost his mind,” Dowell said.

Losing Sunshine and facing the allegedly rough and careless treatment of the police left Rohrer feeling hopeless enough that he “just wanted to die,” he said.

Pvt. First Class Joshua Rohrer (right) and two of his fellow soldiers pose for a photo in a 642nd Military Intelligence Battalion's photo album, owned by Rohrer. 

After Dowell and Shelby police were able to subdue Rohrer, he had to be treated at the VA Medical Center in Asheville for injuries suffered during the PTSD episode caused by losing Sunshine.

Bended Knee Outdoors, a non-profit corporation in Granite Falls, North Carolina, has been providing Rohrer with housing since his Oct. 16. release from the medical center, Dowell said.

Rohrer said he wanted to share his story to draw attention to how he was treated.

“I’m just blown away that this could happen to a veteran and service dog team, or anybody really, homeless or not,” he said.

“I just lost my ability to believe in and function in society,” Rohrer said. “I cannot function without a service dog and they stole that from me. I don’t know how I’m going to recover from this.”

Dowell and Rohrer said that his case was recently accepted by the Veterans Justice Outreach program, which works “to identify justice-involved Veterans and contact them through outreach, in order to facilitate access to VA services at the earliest possible point.”

The program doesn’t provide legal counsel, but it does help point veterans in the right direction, according to their website.

“He has an army of people behind him now,” Dowell said, “but he doesn’t have his battle buddy anymore.”

According to the Facebook group, “Support Joshua Rohrer and Sunshine Rae,” a protest will take place in front of the Gastonia Police Department Oct. 29.

Orginally Published Army Times Written By Rachel Nostrant 

Cedar's Take:

I'm not a fan of homeless or panhandlers. I despise those who prey on others out of sympathy or guilt. I really hate those who fall for the "Homeless Vet Please Help God Bless" crap, stop traffic and hand over another five bucks to feed a druggies' habit.

That said Gastonia needs to make this right. The man needs a new dog and some compassion. Gastonia Police Officers know his boots are my boots are their boots. We are all in this together even more so when it is a veteran and GPD needs to own this. 

They know they should have handled this better and not separated Rohrer from his K-9 service dog. They need to fix this.



Anonymous said...

We are our own worst enemies. Some common sense folks.

Anonymous said...

I normally agree with Cedar but not on this one. This guys dog tried to bite officers and then ran off. WTF are they supposed to do? How much resources are they supposed to spend to find this aggressive dog that ran off after attacking officers. Boo fucking Hoo. Even his friend had trouble finding it and then couldn't hold on to it long enough for him to get out of jail. I guess the friend doesn't have any money so he couldn't sue him. I guess we will sue the city then...

Anonymous said...

You can always tell the Officers who are afraid of going after drug dealers and anyone who might run or fight with you. Go fuck with a homeless person and then slam his ass. I worked West Charlotte as a Patrol Officer(Freedom Div.). 14 years of that on night shift. I could care less about a homeless person and him running his mouth. Easy call for service to get a cup of coffee on before the next 10-91/10-90 call. Now if he is breaking into shit that is a whole different ball game. Letting a Homeless dude with a dog to get into your head. Wrong job for you dumbass.

Anonymous said...

8:18. Spot on!!! These are the same officers who will run their mouths when there’s backup on scene and it’s a 90lbs crack whore but let that same officer get out with a 300lbs brother on the block and all of a sudden their not so brave. Hey, Novant security is always hiring or your scared asses can transfer to the airport division. This could’ve been avoided.

Anonymous said...

Again, a mental health issue. We need higher property taxes, and township/city taxes, to pay for the resources that are needed. Mental Health, Affordable Housing, Youth Recreation, Mass Transit: these are the type of issues that make a place livable. There are plenty of places to mimic your programs from. I don't see any successful ones in NC.

Anonymous said...

1122, check in Jersey.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'd prefer my Safety Officers to have an understanding of where to take folks who need counseling. I'm not sure what Gastonia is all about, but I can pretty well assume their PD is not staffed with officers who can spot mental health issues, or know how to handle them. We at least had a vibrant Dept of Social Services back home who would help anyone who needed it, especially vets.

I see so many with the signs here in Charlotte, and cannot help but think of how many people need our collective help in our fair city. With this great climate, many more will come our way. I do my part by buying a water at the stoplight from them, or handing them meal money for the family. I have even tried to hire them to do odd jobs at the rentals, but always miss them when I come back with my truck and tools.

Anonymous said...

Straight up poorly handled. Officers should have secured the dog first thing. Shoot it dead call animal control whatever. Twenty five years I've told everyone on my shift deal with the threat first. The dog was threat plain and simple. The fact that they secured the scene and left without the dog in custody is bad police work. The owner gets one chance to take care of the dog and one chance only. I don't allow the oh he's fine he won't hurt you BS. Contain your dog NOW!

Gastonia needs to up their game to deal with this Charlotte overflow of crazyies. Honestly CMPD should drive them all to Gaston County tell them its a training exercise.

Anonymous said...

I think CP is spot on! We all need to look after our brothers, even more so these guys that have been deployed a couple of time. Be it girl scouts or chair force or some badass tactical unit should they find themselves out on the street we need to step up. Most of us who have been deployed know only boredom, some of us saw some action but guys who went over ten years ago saw a lot more. Some of them just ain't right, no fault of their own but we owe them some respect. Just saying

Anonymous said...

"And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them!"

Ezekiel 25:17

Anonymous said...

God …. Santa Claus for adults.

Anonymous said...

At some point in your life you will stand on a mountain top and wonder is there a God? And when you come down you will still wonder if there is a God? Such is life. But for a few among us the realization that faith and belief matter, comes in many forms. 2013 the 3rd time I cheated death having had sniper rounds and IEDs try to take me out, a came to believe that my rather weak faith was actually saving my ass. On that day I missed by only minutes a flight out of Bagram. A flight that terminated just after take off. All 7 aboard died.

Anonymous said...

0822, thanks for your service putting your life on the line many times. When you realize that God is real, you also realize the purpose of this life is not necessarily staying alive (although survival is extremely important) as we all have our day to die at some point - death is very much a part of life. It’s what you do with the short time you are here that matters. Perhaps consider why you were not taken out of this world earlier.

Anonymous said...

Thank You 8:22 and 9:31 you are right. Let us all work to make a difference.

And Let's Go Brandon!

Anonymous said...

Lets see the Body Camera footage of the initial engagement with this guy. Trying to be a smart ass with a homeless vet who they knew had mental issues. De escalation is the word now a days. I hope he sues their asses and this is were qualified immunity should not help the officers. The idea of losing your home may sink into their heads.(its called being homeless)

Ghoul said...

Its all fun and games, until you kill John Wick's dog.

Anonymous said...

Alright bible Boyz….. there’s little difference in believing in an invisible man in the clouds granting random wishes (prayers) and believing in Santa ! I’m sure there were a lot of “Christians” on the Titanic and in the twin towers that didn’t get their prayers answered ! Just saying …🧐

Anonymous said...

1855, Believe what you want. There are great answers to every accusation against the Christian faith. This is Cedar Posts though so we aren’t going to spoon feed you here. The truths of Christianity have satisfied the greatest minds in human history. Archeology and scientific discoveries have only proven the Bible true though the years. You have to take initiative yourself if you are really interested instead of slinging mud around. Maybe have a real conversation with the most faithful Christian you personally know.

I want to hear from Jersey boy about what’s going on back at home? Biden won by 16 points there a year ago and unknown dude who spent $200 on his campaign nearly unseated the current governor.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Jersey is a vibrant democracy. I was a registered Republican, proud to have voted and knocked on doors for Christy Whitman and Chris Christie. Christie would have made a phenomenal President. A much better unifier than Trump, and equally as unafraid to stand up to the machine.

What voters there are angry with is the one-party rule, hidden corruption, the Covid lock-down response, and over regulation. What we love about Jersey is all the services that give us a wonderful quality of life. Incredible schools, mental health resources, a social safety net, proximity to the beautiful shore and everything NYC has to offer, with idyllic towns and neighborhoods. Charlotte would have a lot to learn by modeling themselves on Camden or Newark. Many of their mistakes, Charlotte is walking into. First and foremost is giving your residents a reason to move by not increasing your services.

Anonymous said...

Jersey guy never disappoints. 😂

I think the Jersey and Virginia voters said “Let’s Go Brandon!” when they hit the ballot box.

Anonymous said...

Peaceful man and dog are not breaking the law.
Officers arrive, aggressive, begin false arrest of peaceful veteran so upsetting that helper dog licks and tries to comfort veteran.
Cops refuse to allow man to secure dog, no matter how much he begs.
Officer thugs become more physically violent. Comfort dog nips heels--not injurious, not biting, but nipping for attention--of violent cops who are assaulting man in the midst of their false arrest of that man.
Cops use taser on dog.
Apparently, dog backs off but is still standing by his man somewhat apart from the car where now the man is illegally detained and begging for his dog--the dog that cops are BY LAW required to bring with them during this illegal arrest.

Cops refuse. More illegal actions.

Cops laugh at request. More despicable actions.

Dog flees. Dog killed.


"Officers should have secured the dog first thing. Shoot it dead call animal control whatever. Twenty five years I've told everyone on my shift deal with the threat first. The dog was threat plain and simple. The fact that they secured the scene and left without the dog in custody is bad police work."

"This guys dog tried to bite officers and then ran off. WTF are they supposed to do? How much resources are they supposed to spend to find this aggressive dog that ran off after attacking officers. Boo fucking Hoo."


THEY NEVER HAD A RIGHT TO TOUCH THIS MAN OR HIS DOG IN THE FIRST PLACE and every single officer reading this who did not say so does not deserve his or her badge, either. Mr. 25 years... I believe you that you've been training people with this kind of shit for 25 years because it shows in every single police department, every comment board, every blog, evey bit of testimony, every "officer involved shooting" of person or animal. You are subhuman.

Anonymous said...

Let's go "chikin' samich"!