DA gets it right: Bogus charges dropped against man who spoke out

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Two weeks ago, Dennis Henderson, 38, of the North Side was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing a highway.

Pittsburgh police officer Jonathan Gromek arrested the schoolteacher because, according to his report, he saw Mr. Henderson shout at him in the rearview mirror as his patrol car drove by. Officer Gromek made a U-turn, engaged Mr. Henderson and freelance photographer Rossano Stewart in a heated discussion about his driving, handcuffed both, but hauled the schoolteacher to jail as nearly a dozen cops arrived on the scene to back him up.

Witnesses leaving a meeting convened to discuss ways to improve police-community relations, among other things, gaped in astonishment as one of their own was arrested. The irony was not lost on anyone. Neither was the injustice of arresting a law-abiding citizen for expressing a critical opinion about a cop speeding through a residential neighborhood. It illustrated the lack of respect some police officers have for the residents of the communities they patrol.

The charges against Mr. Henderson were not only unwarranted, but also threatened his professional standing. The charges were transparently bogus and punitive and had nothing to do with the pursuit of justice or serving the public.

Fortunately, the district attorney's office looked at the evidence and listened to the exasperated chorus of community and media voices calling for the dismissal of the charges. On Tuesday, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. announced the dropping of the charges. He said in a statement: "It's clear that the encounter with police resulted in part from two individuals exercising their constitutional rights." Exactly.

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