Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Teacher sues Pittsburgh police officer after controversial arrest in Homewood

Posted By on Tue, Nov 19, 2013 at 7:45 PM

Dennis Henderson (middle) answers questions at an afternoon press conference flanked by his attorneys
  • Photo by Alex Zimmerman
  • Dennis Henderson (middle) answers questions at an afternoon press conference flanked by his attorneys

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit today against a Pittsburgh police officer who arrested a teacher outside a Homewood Community Empowerment Association meeting this summer, an incident that incensed many community members.

The lawsuit claims Dennis Henderson, a teacher at the Manchester Academy Charter School, and photojorunalist Rossano Stewart "were arrested and hundcuffed merely for criticizing the way that Officer [Jonathan] Gromek, who is white, drove down a residential street."

"I worked hard to stay out of the system," Henderson said at a press conference this afternoon. "If it wasn't racial, I have no idea what it was. I hope this lawsuit opens candid dialogue about racial profiling in the region."

After the June community meeting in Homewood (which included conversation about community-police relations), Stewart and Henderson were standing near Henderson's car when Gromek "veered in their direction," according to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of Henderson.

Gromek made a U-turn and said "Do you have a problem?" at which point Henderson said he wanted to file a complaint, according to the suit.

The situation escalated after Henderson started recording their interaction on his cell phone. Gromek put both men in handcuffs (though Stewart was quickly released) and Henderson was taken to Allegheny County Jail and charged with disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway and resisting arrest.

Those charges were dropped and the Office of Municipal Investigations ruled in October that Gromek violated police policy, according to the lawsuit, which alleges First and Fourth amendment violations and seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Bryan Campbell, the FOP attorney who will represent Gromek, said he had not been served with the lawsuit and would wait to speak with Gromek before commenting on the case.

The Citizen Police Review Board has scheduled a public pre-hearing conference on the incident for Tuesday, Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers, according to Elizabeth Pittinger, the organization's executive director.

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