Citizens protest arrest of homeless veteran in Gastonia


Gastonia officers accused Joshua Rohrer of illegally begging for money and resisting arrest.

GASTONIA, N.C. — Residents are protesting an arrest made by the Gastonia Police Department that witnesses allege resulted in officers roughing up a homeless Army veteran and his service dog.

According to police, officers responded to the intersection of Cox Road and Gaston Mall Drive around 6:30 pm Wednesday for a citizen complaint regarding a panhandler.

Officers ultimately booked Joshua Rohrer into jail yesterday evening on charges of illegal begging for money and resisting arrest.

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.

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Crystal Rogers said Rohrer always sat at the median with his service dog. 

“He was a good man. He was always polite,” Rogers said. “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.

They said early Wednesday evening, they saw Rohrer surrounded by officers.

“The officer asked him for his ID. He wasn’t moving fast enough so he tried to reach into his pocket to get his ID,” Huffman said. “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.

They said an officer pulled out a taser and used it on the dog.

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“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’s 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.”

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.

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 are trying to find the dog, and they’re asking for people to be on the lookout for her.

Contact Brandon Golder at bgoldner@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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