A day before a scheduled preliminary hearing, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala announced he's dropping charges against a Pittsburgh teacher who was arrested outside a meeting about police/community relations.
Dennis Henderson, a 38-year-old teacher at the Manchester Academy Charter School, was arrested June 26 in Homewood after leaving a Community Empowerment Association meeting.
According to Henderson, he said "wow" to freelance photographer Rossano Stewart when a police cruiser sped past them. The criminal complaint filed by Officer Jonathan Gromek indicated he turned around when through his rear view mirror, he saw Henderson yelling.
Gromek encountered Henderson and Stewart. Henderson said he told the officer he was using his cell phone to record the exchange, but according to Gromek's report, he thought Henderson was using the phone to call more people to the scene, so Gromek called for back-up.
Henderson was subsequently charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
“I have reviewed the circumstances surrounding the matter to this point," Zappala said. "It’s clear that the encounter with police resulted in part from two individuals exercising their constitutional rights."
The statement from Zappala went on to say that he reviewed the significance of the allegation and potential for prosecution.
"I have directed that the charges be withdrawn pending a complete review by the City of Pittsburgh Police Office of Municipal Investigations to determine any further action,” Zappala said.
City Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess, whose district includes Homewood, called Zappala’s decision “appropriate.”
“People who (were) involved were not committing crimes, and those who witnessed it firsthand were all very clear that this was really an overreaction on the part of the police officer involved,” he said.
Burgess believes there are two competing fallacies that are causing a disconnect between the police and citizens.
“Some of the police, they believe that the community hates them, they are being unappreciated, and the community is complicit in illegal activities and protect those criminals,” Burgess said. “On the other hand, I think you have the community who think the police hate them, and they feel they’re disrespected and the police target them and treat them unfairly and unconstitutionally.”
He said both of those contentions are false and “are getting in the way.”
“The only way to increase public safety is to increase public confidence, and you do that by mutual respect on both parties," Burgess said. "We need the community to say, ‘We will not tolerate crime and we need the police in our community, and we want them to provide public safety.’ And we need the police to say, ‘We respect the community and we will do everything to treat each of them with dignity and respect.’”