Pittsburgh, PA – Five Pittsburgh police officers were fired on Wednesday for allegedly violating police procedure and protocols in connection with the death of a suspect who was repeatedly tased while resisting arrest in 2021.
Three additional Pittsburgh Police Department (PPD) officers involved in the incident will be reinstated after they complete retraining, KDKA reported.
The five fired officers will be given the option to retire, and all eight involved officers have the right to appeal the disciplinary action within the next two weeks.
Pittsburgh Fraternal Order of Police President Robert Swartzwelder told KDKA all eight of the officers plan to do just that.
“At the conclusion of that case, it will determine if the discipline will be upheld, modified or even eliminated,” Swartzwelder said.
The series of events leading to the death of 54-year-old Jim Rogers began the morning of Oct. 13, 2021, when a resident living on Harriet Street in Bloomfield called police to report that someone had stolen a bicycle from a neighbor’s front yard, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
PPD Officer Keith Edmonds responded to the scene and spotted a man matching the description of the suspect walking down the sidewalk, according to an executive summary of a police internal investigation report completed in December of 2021.
The homeless man was later identified as Rogers.
Investigators said Officer Edmonds asked Rogers a series of questions, but claimed he did not fully allow him to respond, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
He then conducted a pat-down, radioed that he did not need additional assistance, and proceeded to remove Rogers’ wallet from his front left pocket, according to the report.
It was at that point that Rogers began struggling with Officer Edmonds, causing the officer “to view Rogers’ behavior as an act of aggression,” the report read.
“Up to this point, Officer Edmonds has given a series of rapid, conflicting commands to Rogers concerning producing his identification,” investigators noted.
Officer Edmonds used an arm bar in attempt to gain control over Rogers, then drew his Taser and told the suspect he was going to deploy it, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
Investigators said the officer delivered a one-second drive stun to Roger’s back, followed by a second one-second drive stun approximately 18 seconds later, according to the report.
Rogers then got to his feet and tried to run away, at which point Officer Edmonds fired the Taser, striking Rogers in his back.
He shocked him three more times within the next 46 seconds, investigators said.
Officer Edmonds deployed a second set of Taser probes three additional times within a 56-second window shortly thereafter.
PPD Officer Patrick Desaro and Officer Gregory Boss then arrived at the scene and placed Rogers in handcuffs, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
PPD Sergeant Carol Ehlinger, Sergeant Colby Neidig, and Lieutenant Matthew Gaunter arrived a short while later.
Rogers was placed in a patrol vehicle, where he proceeded to bash his head off the seat while screaming to be taken to the hospital, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
“‘I need a hospital, I can’t breathe, get a medic, help me,’” he yelled, according to the report.
Emergency medical personnel helped decontaminate the officers who had Rogers’ blood on them as Rogers yelled in the patrol car for 17 minutes, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
The suspect was ultimately transported to the hospital by Officer Boss and Officer Desaro.
Rogers was unresponsive when they reached the hospital and died the following day.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner classified his death as an accident, KDKA reported.
The police review board determined Officer Edmonds’ “poor tactics and decision-making skills escalated rather than de-escalated this incident,” the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported. “Officer Edmonds created the jeopardy in which he found himself.”
They further ruled Rogers posed no threat to Officer Edmonds or anyone else during the encounter, and said the officer handled the situation in a “haphazard, tactically unsound way.”
The board said “poor and ineffective supervision” was also to blame for the incident, according to the report.
The report noted that five additional officers who were at the scene that day should have also been aware that Rogers was in need of medical treatment, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey announced the five firings and three reinstatements during a press conference on Wednesday, KDKA reported.
Sources identified the officers who were fired as Sgt. Neidig, Officer Edmonds, Officer Boss, Officer Desaro, and Officer Neyib Velazquez, according to WPXI.
Sgt. Ehlinger, Officer Jeff Dean, and Officer Paul Froehlich will be reinstated after they are retrained.
“Mr. Rogers deserved to live a life of joy. He deserved to live a long life,” Gainey told reporters. “He didn’t deserve to lose his life at the hands of police officers. What his life could have been will stay with me as long as I’m the mayor of this city.”
“Today sets us on a pathway to improve police-community relations,” the mayor declared, according to KDKA. “We need to work together to honor the memory of Jim Rogers to make a fair and equitable city for us all.”
Swartzwelder said Gainey was out of line when he claimed Rogers died “at the hands of police officers” and reiterated that the autopsy ruled his death as accidental, WPXI reported.
“I don’t think there’s evidence of that,” the police union leader said. “I think there was an interaction with police but I don’t think there’s evidence of that at this stage that we are aware of.”
Robert Del Greco, the attorney representing Officer Boss, confirmed his client was among those who were fired, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
“We are sorely disappointed in the administration’s termination,” Del Greco said. “He is a nurturing parent, a doting husband, very active in the community.”
The attorney noted Officer Boss is a 22-year veteran police officer who has “an impeccable and immaculate record.”
“I think the citizens of Pittsburgh have been deprived of an excellent public servant,” Del Greco said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Rogers’ family released a statement saying they are “pleased with what they consider to be a substantial first step in the direction of justice and accountability,” according to WPXI.
“It should be noted that the loss of life under such horrific and unconscionable measures at the hands of the police is a story to often told to the black community,” the statement read. “While we appreciate the thoughtful comments of Mayor Gainey, we look forward to substantial changes in the City of Pittsburgh Police Department to ensure that this never happens again.”
Protesters gathered in Domont Thursday to show support for Rogers’ family and the witnesses subpoenaed to testify before the ongoing grand jury hearing into whether or not the officers will face criminal charges, KDKA reported.
“Justice for Jim Rogers” group member Devon Adwoa said they are demanding that the case “result in a conviction of these officers.”
“These officers committed a murder and they should not be allowed back in the community,” Adwoa declared.
“We’re going to keep fighting for Jim, and by extension we’re going to keep fighting for all victims of police brutality,” she told WTAE.