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Incident between teacher, officer escalates into arrest in Homewood

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By Margaret Harding

Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013, 11:57 a.m.

A teacher arrested outside a community meeting in Homewood said on Thursday that the way Pittsburgh police treated him makes his educational mission much harder.

“You teach the kids to do what you're supposed to do and handle yourself properly,” said Dennis Henderson, 38, of the North Side. “This officer is roaming the streets, sabotaging what you're telling the kids. It makes it more challenging.”

Police charged Henderson with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and blocking a public passage when Officer Jonathan Gromek confronted him and Rossano Stewart, a freelance photojournalist for the New Pittsburgh Courier, outside the Community Empowerment Association meeting just before 8 p.m. Wednesday on Kelly Street.

Interactions between the police and the public were part of the discussion at the meeting, association CEO Rashad Byrdsong said.

The Office of Municipal Investigations is reviewing the incident, Public Safety Director Michael Huss said.

“It's an unfortunate incident that happened,” Huss said.

Gromek did not return a message seeking comment. Hired in 2005, he will remain on regular duty, said Zone 5 Cmdr. Timothy O'Connor.

The Citizen Police Review Board opened an inquiry into the incident. Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger said Gromek never has been the subject of a public hearing.

Huss said officers will meet with association members to “build and improve relations between the community and police.”

“I think it's highly ironic this meeting was going on to build better community relations,” said Henderson's wife, Monica, who picked him up from the Allegheny County Jail after posting a $500 bond. “They picked the wrong battle. He's going to have a lot of support behind him.”

Henderson and Stewart said they were exchanging business cards near Henderson's sport utility vehicle when a police car sped by very close to them.

“We both really had to lean against his car,” Stewart said. “That's how close he was to us. And there was no need for that. There was no oncoming traffic.”

Gromek turned around, drove toward the men and asked if they had a problem with his driving, Stewart said. Henderson said he asked Gromek for his name and badge number.

“He got steamed,” Stewart said. “He gets out and says, ‘If you're going to make a complaint about me, I'm going to cite you for obstructing the road.' ”

Henderson tried to record the interaction on his cellphone.

“That's when he lost it,” Henderson said of Gromek.

Gromek wrote in his report that he thought Henderson was calling other people to come to the scene, “which would prove a safety risk for me.” He said he ordered Henderson to put the phone away and he refused, so Gromek handcuffed both men and told them to sit on the curb.

When Henderson said he couldn't, Gromek “slammed me to the ground,” Henderson said. Gromek wrote that he used a “leg sweep to knock Henderson to the ground.”

More than 10 police officers, including K-9 units, responded to Gromek's call for backup. Stewart was warned about obstructing highways.

When officers took Henderson to jail, about 20 people went to the police station in Highland Park to protest.

Henderson has been a social studies teacher at Manchester Academic Charter School for more than 10 years, Principal Vasilios Scoumis said.

Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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