Charges dropped against teacher arrested outside Homewood forum on relations with Pittsburgh police
July 9, 2013 7:39 PM
By Liz Navratil and Lexi Belculfine Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Prosecutors plan to withdraw the charges against a teacher arrested in Homewood last month pending the outcome of a city of Pittsburgh investigation.
Dennis Henderson, 38, of the North Side was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing a highway or other public passage in an incident that angered community groups. His preliminary hearing had been scheduled for this morning.
Freelance photographer Rossano Stewart also was handcuffed during the incident and then released.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, police Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said his department respects Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala's decision to drop criminal charges in the case as the city's Office of Municipal Investigations continues its inquiry.
"We, too, are awaiting the final findings of the OMI Investigation," Chief Donaldson said in the statement.
Mr. Zappala said in his own statement Tuesday that he found no criminality in the incident.
"I have reviewed the circumstances surrounding the matter to this point," he said in the statement. "It's clear that the encounter with police resulted in part from two individuals exercising their constitutional rights."
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said the "public interest would be best served if the DA conducted a criminal investigation into police Officer [Jonathan] Gromek's conduct rather than the City, which has an obvious conflict of interest," she said.
Rashad Byrdsong, CEO and president of the Community Empowerment Association, said Mr. Henderson never should have been arrested in the first place, "but this renews our faith that the criminal justice system does adhere to justice when these civil and constitutional rights violations occur."
Mr. Henderson has taught civics, social studies and history at Manchester Academic Charter School for about 12 years. He said his experience is "definitely" something he would discuss in the classroom.
"The relationship between police and the city does impact how our young people develop into citizens," he said.
Shortly before 8 p.m. June 26, Mr. Henderson and Mr. Stewart left a meeting at the Community Empowerment Association and walked across Kelly Street so Mr. Henderson could get a business card out of his car.
He and Mr. Stewart said they saw an officer -- later identified as Zone 5 Officer Gromek -- driving through the area and remarked at his speed.
Officer Gromek didn't respond to a request for comment at the time but wrote in a criminal complaint that he turned around because when he glanced in his rearview mirror he saw Mr. Henderson shouting.
Mr. Stewart has said Officer Gromek asked the two if they had a problem with his driving and whether they wanted to file a complaint against him.
Mr. Henderson said he asked for the officer's name and badge number. Each said the other one grew increasingly angry.
Mr. Henderson said he asked a passerby to watch what was happening. About that time, Officer Gromek called for assistance.
Mr. Henderson said he told Officer Gromek he was going to record him using his cell phone and the officer tried to take his phone. Mr. Henderson handed his phone to a man standing nearby.
Officer Gromek reported that Mr. Henderson was becoming "visibly angry" and "I believed he may have been trying to contact more people to come on scene which would prove to be a safety risk for me, so I instructed him to put away his phone."
Officer Gromek first placed Mr. Stewart and then Mr. Henderson into handcuffs and told them to sit on the ground. Mr. Henderson said sitting was difficult because his hands were bound and Officer Gromek forced him to the ground.
About that time, the community meeting the two men attended was ending and people came outside to watch. Officer Gromek wrote that he again called for backup, fearing that a large number of people would come outside.
He wrote that at least 11 officers, including some with dogs, came to the scene.
Police took Mr. Stewart's information and released him with a warning about obstructing the roadway.
Officer Gromek remains on active duty, still assigned to Zone 5, Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard said.