Dennis Henderson, 2nd left, flanked by attorneys Sara Rose of the ACLU, left, Glen Downey, right, of Healey & Hornak, and James Love, 2nd right, also from Healey & Hornak, talks about his arrest in June 2013 by Pittsburgh Police Officer Johnathan Gromek at a November 19, 2013 press conference announcing the filing of a lawsuit against Officer Gromek.
By Liz Navratil and Rich Lord / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Neither the Pittsburgh police union nor the American Civil Liberties Union were pleased with the discipline recommended Tuesday for an officer whose arrest of a Homewood teacher is the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Top police bureau chiefs recommended Tuesday that Officer Jonathan Gromek, 30, an eight-year veteran of the force, should receive a written reprimand after the city's Office of Municipal Investigations found that he violated bureau policies regarding conduct toward the public, conduct unbecoming of an officer and incompetency.
Sgt. Michael LaPorte, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, said he thought the recommendation was too harsh and plans to appeal it. The legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which is representing the man Officer Gromek arrested, said he thought a written reprimand did not go far enough.
Acting police Chief Regina McDonald declined to comment Tuesday afternoon, saying the closed hearing pertained to "personnel issues."
Dennis Henderson, a teacher with the Manchester Academy Charter School, said he had just left a meeting in Homewood June 26 and was exchanging information with a journalist when Officer Gromek sped by so closely they had to press against a car and Mr. Henderson said "Wow."
Mr. Henderson, who is black, said he felt racially targeted by the white officer, who handcuffed him after he refused to turn over his cell phone, on which he had begun recording their exchange.
Mr. Gromek, who has not commented on the encounter, wrote in court documents that he turned around because he saw Mr. Henderson shouting in his rear-view mirror. He wrote that Mr. Henderson became "visibly angry" while they were talking and, "I believed he may have been trying to contact more people to come on scene which could prove to be a safety risk for me, so I instructed him to put away his phone."
Mr. Henderson was jailed for about 12 hours and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of highways -- all of which were withdrawn by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
Sgt. LaPorte said he felt the police bureau and the city's Office of Municipal Investigations caved to public criticism.
"Everything he did on the scene was appropriate," Sgt. LaPorte said of Officer Gromek. "The bureau is under a lot of criticism, and I believe that's influencing their decision-making."
OMI director Kathy Kraus defended OMI's finding, saying, "Our conclusions are based on facts developed in investigations."
Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which is representing Mr. Henderson, said officers continue to violate people's rights because of a lack of accountability.
"Short of this happening at halftime at Heinz Field, it's hard to imagine a case with more witnesses and a stronger case of misconduct," Mr. Walczak said. "Sadly, we are moving back toward the days of the mid-'90s, when we filed a lawsuit and brought the Department of Justice in," leading to a consent decree on discipline in the department.
"The only way police officers are dismissed from the force is when they are spending time in jail and can't discharge their duties. Our client spent 12 hours in jail. His wife was a nervous wreck because he couldn't make a phone call. His own kids and his students saw how he was humiliated. And for that [Officer Gromek] gets a written reprimand and that's too stiff for the FOP?"
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Rich Lord: email@example.com, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published November 26, 2013 4:52 PM
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