Homewood Teacher Reaches Settlement with City in False Arrest Lawsuit

Dec 9, 2014

The city of Pittsburgh has reached a settlement with Dennis Henderson, a teacher who was arrested in June 2013 outside of a community meeting on police/community relations.

Henderson and the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit against the arresting police officer, Jonathan Gromek. The settlement was reached after mediation.

“Under the terms of the settlement, the city is going to pay Dennis Henderson $52,500 in damages and fees and it’s also agreed to make some important policy changes,” said Sara Rose, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Henderson, who is black, had been attending the meeting, but stepped outside to give a photographer his business card. He said a police car drove by very fast, and he yelled, “Wow!” He said Gromek, who is white, turned around, got out of the car and situation escalated resulting in Henderson’s arrest and 12-hour stint in jail. One of the issues raised in the lawsuit was that the officer told Henderson he could not record the encounter with his cell phone.

According the suit, Henderson’s arrest violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him for recording the incident, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, false arrest and false imprisonment. All charges against him were withdrawn by the District Attorney following his arrest.

“I am encouraged that Mayor Peduto is dedicated to pursuing avenues to improve the culture, interactions and trust of the police department within our minority and low-income communities of Pittsburgh,” Henderson said in a statement. “I’m confident that we do have the capacity to change the historic pattern of profiling that does exist in our city.”

One of changes included in the settlement is that the city adopts a policy that acknowledges the public’s right to videotape police officers.

“There is a First Amendment right to record police officers and the performance of their duties, and we want to make sure that police officers know that, so the city will adopt a policy about that and do some training with officers to make sure officers respect the public’s right to record them,” said Rose.

Other changes include the city having all of its police zone commanders engage in regularly scheduled meetings with community members in their zones, and the city, ACLU and University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris meeting to discuss a possible policy to record data on pedestrian stops.

“Right now there is no requirement that any report be made when an officer stops and pats down a pedestrian,” Rose said. “Other cities do require reports to be made – Philadelphia and New York both require it, and we think Pittsburgh should require it too in the interest of accountability and transparency.”

The settlement has been presented to City Council, which will vote on it at a future meeting.