CUFFED—Pittsburgh school teacher Dennis Henderson, yellow shirt, and New Pittsburgh Courier photographer Rossano Stewart, front, sit in handcuffs after being harassed by a Pittsburgh police officer for, what many are saying, is “Talking While Black.” (Photo by Elwin Green/Facebook)
by Ashley Johnson
Courier Staff Writer
Charges will be dropped against Pittsburgh teacher Dennis Henderson, who was arrested last month while talking outside of a community meeting in Homewood with New Pittsburgh Courier photographer Rossano Steweart pending a review by the City of Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigations.
DENNIS HENDERSON (Courier Photo/Rossano P. Stewart)
“I have reviewed the circumstances surrounding the matter to this point. It’s clear that the encounter with police resulted in part from two individuals exercising their constitutional rights,” said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., in a written statement released July 9. “Having reviewed the significance of the allegations and without regard to potential prosecutorial merit, I have directed that the charges be withdrawn pending a complete review by the City of Pittsburgh Police Office of Municipal Investigations to determine any further action.”
Henderson was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of traffic on June 26, when he and Stewart were outside of a Community Empowerment Association meeting, talking and exchanging business cards. According to reports, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Officer Jonathan Gromek was driving at a high rate of speed on Kelly Street, in Homewood, when he almost hit the two men. After the two men displayed annoyance, Gromek then turned around and began to confront the two men, asking if they had a problem with his driving. After Henderson requested the officer’s name and badge number, Stewart said the officer threatened them with charges and then placed them under arrest. Both men were handcuffed. Stewart was later let go and Henderson was taken away. He was scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on July 10.
“I’m glad for Henderson and his family,” said Stewart. “It’s a step in the right direction, as far as community relations go. This shows the police are willing to work with the community and listen. Hopefully this will bring a positive change.”
City of Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss said he supports the district attorney’s decision and that the incident is still being investigated by the city’s Office of Municipal Investigations.
Stewart said he is also waiting to see what actions will be taken against Gromek, who has remained on active duty at the Zone 5 station.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizens Police Review Board, said she felt the dropping of charges against Henderson was appropriate given what was learned about the situation and would find it refreshing if the district attorney conducted a separate review into the actions of Gromek.
In a statement released on July 9, Lucille Prater-Holliday, CEO and founder of the Black Women’s Empowerment Institute said that she was pleased with the decision to drop the charges against Henderson and thanked Zappala and his consideration of the facts in this case. She also commended the community, the Alliance for Police Accountability, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police leadership and elected officials for their efforts and for showing an interest in continuing to work towards bridging relationships between the community and the police.
Henderson is a teacher at Manchester Academic Charter School in the North Side, where he has been for 10 years.