Body cam, cell phone video of Jim Rogers' arrest and Tasering by Pittsburgh Police released
Never-before-seen footage of the 2021 arrest of Jim Rogers, who died in a hospital one day after Pittsburgh Police repeatedly shocked him with a Taser, was released to the public Sunday.
A compilation video including footage from body cameras, dashboard and security cameras, as well as cell phone footage shot by witnesses was released by Todd Hollis Law, the firm that represented Rogers’ family in a wrongful death suit against the City of Pittsburgh.
Rogers was repeatedly shocked with a Taser after police responded to a reported bicycle theft in Bloomfield. He later died in the hospital.
Pittsburgh agreed to pay a historic $8 million to settle the suit, though those payments were put on hold late last year due to questions about Rogers’ estate. Five officers were fired as a result of the incident, and four others received suspensions. One of the fired officers was later allowed to retire.
Hollis said in a statement that releasing the footage to the public was an effort to provide transparency and raise public awareness about the case.
“In releasing this footage, we aim to provide public access to critical information and foster a transparent legal process,” he said. “Our goal is to uphold the principles of justice and integrity in the legal system, ensuring that all relevant information is available for public view and understanding.”
Hollis obtained a court order granting him permission to release the footage from a federal judge last week.
The 52-minute video, uploaded to Hollis’ website, begins with the 911 call received by county dispatchers at 10:20 a.m. on Oct. 13, 2021. Then it cuts to body camera footage as Officer Keith Edmonds arrives on the scene and confronts Rogers.
Edmonds approaches Rogers and asks him about the bicycle, which cannot be seen during any point in the footage. (Some witnesses have said that the bike was returned before Edmonds arrived on the scene.) Edmonds asks for identification and after Rogers fails to produce a wallet, Edmonds tries to restrain him.
“I’m listening to you. I’m listening to you,” Rogers can be heard saying from the ground while Edmonds demands he put his hands behind his back. Rogers does not appear to do so, however, and Edmonds presses a Taser into Rogers' back while repeating the instructions.
Shortly after, the footage shows Edmonds deploying the Taser, as Rogers writhes in pain. Edmonds is shown pulling the trigger of the stun gun repeatedly during the encounter, including a moment in which Rogers gets up to run away before he’s shocked again.
Rogers groans and breathes heavily after several shocks and is slow to respond to Edmonds’ commands. In footage shot by a witness, a bystander can be heard pleading for Edmonds to allow Rogers time to collect himself.
Eventually other officers arrive on scene as Edmonds continues to struggle to restrain Rogers. Three officers are shown holding Rogers down on the ground while he’s placed in handcuffs. The officers then take him into the back of a police cruiser.
Once in the back of the car, Rogers can be heard pleading for help more than a dozen times. His speech is slurred and he moans repeatedly throughout 20 minutes of the released footage, asking to be taken to a hospital.
Officers eventually head across town to UPMC Mercy Hospital, though without the use of their sirens or lights. The footage shows the vehicle stopped at traffic lights, and idling for roughly three minutes at a construction zone along Forbes Avenue a few blocks from the facility.
At the outset of the trip, Rogers can be heard groaning and slowly responding to officers’ occasional questions. But while officers can be heard talking lightly with each other and engaging with other people on the street, Rogers can't be heard at all as the officers drive through Downtown on their way to UPMC Mercy.
The officers don't seem to notice anything amiss until they reach the hospital and attempt to remove him from the vehicle. When they direct Rogers to step out of the car, he doesn’t answer.
“Dude, I don’t know if he’s breathing, bro. Grab the medics,” said one officer, identified in the video as Greg Boss.
A second officer, identified as Pat Desaro, appears to walk toward a parked ambulance near the entrance of the emergency room. In the meantime, Boss continues to shake Rogers in an apparent attempt to bring him to consciousness. Edmonds then arrives on the scene and begins administering CPR to Rogers. As the video cuts off, two paramedics can be seen wheeling over a gurney as Edmonds continues chest compressions.
The city has consistently taken the position that Rogers’ death was the direct result of police action. In a statement Tuesday, Mayor Ed Gainey and public safety officials acknowledged the video, calling it "disturbing." The statement said that "following the death of Mr. Rogers, Pittsburgh Police have since made several policy and procedural improvements."
The city said some of those improvements include assigning an officer to closely monitor those in custody during transfer to the nearest emergency room. (UPMC Mercy was located across town from where Rogers was taken into custody, even though other hospitals were closer.)
Other changes include a requirement to summon Emergency Medical Services every time a Taser is deployed, so a medic can evaluate individuals on the scene, and retraining police on how to avoid responding to a scene with a single officer.
The city also said it has since begun reviewing all body camera footage "after every use of force" incident.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #1, have argued that the officers did not contribute to Rogers’ death and point to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s finding that the death was accidental.
“We stand by the findings of Dr. Karl Williams, who is a very competent and professional medical examiner in this county,” said union president Bob Swartzwelder in December.
No criminal charges have been filed relating to Rogers’ death. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has suggested his office could pursue charges, telling WPXI in 2022 that he “absolutely” saw “criminality involved.”
But Zappala has not since filed any charges, and a 2022 grand jury investigation did not yield any indictments. When reporters asked him about the newly released footage Tuesday, he sounded a much different note.
"If you're not permitted to charge homicide, then it's not a criminal case," Zappala said. "And when the medical examiner comes in and says something is accidental, that means there's no criminal intent."
Still, Zappala said it was "reprehensible" that officers drove across town to UPMC Mercy when they could've taken Rogers to a hospital closer to the scene.
Three of the officers involved in the incident have sued the city in an attempt to get their jobs back. Those proceedings are ongoing.
The release of the video itself may well prove controversial, as the public does not often get access to police body camera footage.
After Hollis sought to have the tape released late last month, the city filed a six-page response this month outlining various legal issues arising from the request, but ultimately said the release was in the court's discretion.
But earlier court records reveal the city agreed not to challenge the release of the footage as part of an $8 million settlement with Rogers' family.
“The City shall not object to any request by plaintiff, whether made to the District Attorney, Chief of Pittsburgh Police, or to the Court of Common Pleas, for the release of the video at issue," the April 2023 settlement reads.
Swartzwelder told the Post-Gazette Monday that allowing the footage to be released was a violation of the police union's contract with the city.
In its statement Tuesday, the city noted that it is prohibited from releasing investigative information, but pointed to the federal court order as the reason for the release of the footage.
"The decision on whether or not to release body camera video to the public does not fall under the City's authority," the statement said.