Disabled Veteran Files Lawsuit Against N.C. City and Police Officers Who Forcibly Arrested Him, Tased His Service Dog, and Engaged in Retaliatory Online Harassment Campaign
NORTH CAROLINA (July 5, 2023) — Joshua Rohrer, a disabled and formerly homeless veteran who was forcibly arrested under an unconstitutional anti-panhandling law and whose service dog, Sunshine, was tased during the arrest, filed a lawsuit Friday in the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Mr. Rohrer seeks damages for the injuries he suffered during the arrest and from the loss of his service dog, as well as for the City’s extended campaign of making false, taunting, and disparaging statements about him on social media.
The lawsuit was filed against the City of Gastonia, the two City police officers who arrested Mr. Rohrer, and the City employees responsible for running the Gastonia Police Department Facebook page. It asserts claims under the First and Fourth Amendments, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and state law. Mr. Rohrer is represented by the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center (ICAP) and the Guidry Law Firm.
The complaint alleges that in October 2021, Gastonia police officers Cierra Brooks and Maurice Taylor III approached Mr. Rohrer and Sunshine while they were standing on the median of a public road in order to arrest Mr. Rohrer under the City’s plainly unconstitutional anti-panhandling ordinances. During the arrest—and despite knowing of Mr. Rohrer’s disabilities—the officers unnecessarily escalated the situation, forcing Mr. Rohrer against their car and then to the ground and tasing Sunshine, who ran off and was later killed by a car.
Following that event, Mr. Rohrer and members of the community issued public calls for accountability for the City and the officers involved. In retaliation for Mr. Rohrer’s activism, the City has made hundreds of disparaging, false, and taunting public comments through the official Gastonia Police Department Facebook account—a retaliation campaign that continues to this day more than a year and a half later. The City’s comments attack Mr. Rohrer’s character and intentionally mislead the public about the events of the day and the fact that the criminal charges brought against Mr. Rohrer were dismissed.
“The Gastonia police officers who arrested Mr. Rohrer with gratuitous force and tased Sunshine did so with full knowledge that he has military service–related PTSD and is reliant on his service dog to function,” said ICAP senior counsel Elizabeth Cruikshank. “Mr. Rohrer’s life will never be the same, but this lawsuit seeks justice for the lasting physical and emotional harm the Gastonia police inflicted on him and for the loss of Sunshine. And it will send a message to Gastonia and to police departments everywhere that they will face accountability for these kinds of abuse.”
“Mr. Rohrer has been—and continues to be—targeted by the Gastonia police for his constitutionally protected speech, from standing on a median accepting donations from passersby to protesting government misconduct and calling for accountability in the wake of his arrest,” said ICAP senior counsel Joseph Mead. “This case is about ensuring that even members of the most vulnerable populations in our society—including people with disabilities or without housing—will be protected from government overreach and retaliation.”
The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) at Georgetown University Law Center uses strategic legal advocacy to defend constitutional rights and values while working to restore people’s confidence in the integrity of their governmental institutions. More information about ICAP can be found at https://www.law.georgetown.edu/icap.
Guidry Law Firm is a boutique business litigation firm that provides strategic and practical advice to its clients, representing them in and out of court to resolve disputes, recover damages, and defend against claims. More information about Guidry Law Firm can be found at https://www.guidrylawfirm.com.
Elizabeth Cruikshank, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joseph Mead, email@example.com