- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A white police officer should be fired for arresting a black teacher after a community meeting that addressed police relations with Pittsburgh’s black community, a board that investigates citizen complaints of police misconduct has concluded.

The non-binding recommendation Tuesday from the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board that Officer Jonathan Gromek be fired was first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (https://bit.ly/NTwZDI ).

The recommendation from the panel was much harsher than the letter of reprimand Gromek received in November after an internal police investigation, a punishment the city’s police union criticized as too severe.

Mayor Bill Peduto and acting police Chief Regina McDonald have 30 days to respond to the recommendation, and indicate if they’ll accept it, reject it or modify the board’s findings. A police spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday, and Peduto’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The recommendation stemmed from an incident on June 26 when the teacher, Dennis Henderson, 38, was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after he reportedly commented about Gromek driving by at a high speed as Henderson stood near his parked car.

The district attorney’s office withdrew the charges against Henderson - who spent about 12 hours in jail after his arrest - because they stemmed from Henderson exercising free speech.

Henderson sued, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, after Gromek was reprimanded in November. Said Witold Walczak, the ACLU’s legal director in Pennsylvania, “it’s hard to imagine … a stronger case of misconduct.”

Henderson had just left a meeting of the Community Empowerment Association, which seeks to address problems in poorer black neighborhoods, and that night, had discussed ways to improve communication and trust between the black community and the police.

Henderson was speaking to a photographer for the New Pittsburgh Courier, a newspaper that covers the city’s black community, in the street next to Henderson’s car when Gromek’s patrol car drove by close enough that Henderson and the photographer pressed against Henderson’s car for safety.

According to his lawsuit, Henderson said, “Wow!” - referring to the speed with which the officer was driving down a narrow street.

Gromek then turned around, stopped and confronted both of them and asked Henderson, “Do you have a problem?” eventually arresting the teacher when he and the photographer started using a cellphone to record the encounter as onlookers gathered.

Gromek’s attorneys have argued in court papers that he handcuffed Henderson and took the other actions only for his own safety as the crowd gathered.


Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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