Dispute with Pittsburgh officer discussed at meeting

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Five days after a teacher was arrested in Homewood -- eliciting concern from activists and politicians that the Pittsburgh officer's behavior would exacerbate tensions between police and residents -- those involved met behind closed doors Monday to discuss the incident.

An argument between Zone 5 Officer Jonathan Gromek and Dennis Henderson, 38, of the North Side and freelance photographer Rossano Stewart about how fast the officer was driving Wednesday, quickly escalated into a situation that at least 11 officers responded to and ended with Mr. Henderson in the county jail.

City Councilman Ricky Burgess said before Monday evening's meeting that the gathering was intended to foster conversation between the people who were "directly involved." The meeting was closed to the public and media. After people shared their accounts of the incident and their concerns, Mr. Burgess said police officials would be able to respond.

The meeting was attended by acting police Chief Regina McDonald; Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant; Officer Mike Gay, representing city police Zone 5; city council members Theresa Kail-Smith and Mr. Burgess; Councilman Bill Peduto, who won the Democratic mayoral primary; Urban League president Esther Bush; Rashad Byrdsong, president and CEO of the Community Empowerment Association; Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board; and a representative from the U.S. attorney's office, among others.

Mr. Henderson and Mr. Stewart were at the meeting. Officer Gromek was not present. Others in attendance had witnessed their interaction.

Among those witnesses, there was a general sense of "bewilderment" and of disrespect, Ms. Pittinger said.

"[Police and residents] don't respect each other, and that's the crux of the matter. Both sides have dehumanized the other, and as a result, we have a volatile situation and it blew up last week," she said.

"It was an important opportunity to have a needed discussion," Mr. Burgess said.

Chief McDonald also said it was "important to hear from the community" at the fact-finding meeting.

The group developed an action plan: moving forward, Mr. Burgess said, the training of officers and community response need to be evaluated and a working group would be established.

He said the collaboration of those involved was "extraordinary."

"Police affirmed that that was the community belief and experience, and that's a great first step," he said.

Ms. Pittinger said Chief McDonald and Assistant Chief Bryant did a great job listening to the concerns of the community.

"Usually you have a defensive police brass, ready to defend anything the police said or did, and that was a very important message for the community to hear," Ms. Pittinger said.

She said the plan coming out of Homewood could help create change across the city.

Mr. Burgess thanked those who attended the meeting.

"The people here are advocates for change," he said.

At 6 tonight, the broader community will be welcomed at the Community Empowerment Association, 7210 Kelly St., to discuss their interactions with police.

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Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1878, or Twitter: @LexiBelc.


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