PITTSBURGH — Over five months after Jim Rogers died after a city cop repeatedly stunned him with a Taser Oct. 13, Pittsburgh Mayor Edward Gainey and Public Safety Director Lee Schmidt announced March 23 that five officers involved had been fired. Retraining was ordered for three others. The police and city administration continue to conceal the names of the cops.
Rogers, a 54-year-old African American who was homeless, was confronted by the cops after they received a report that he had taken a bicycle he found in a front yard, rode it around, and then returned it. The cops said he was “noncompliant,” and moved to detain him, leading to the Taser shots.
“It’s about time. People need to be held accountable, especially when the police are involved,” retail worker Roy Penny told the Militant. “The cops need to see what’s happening in the Black community.”
“When you’re looking at five out of eight officers being fired,” Brandi Fisher, president and CEO of the Alliance for Police Accountability, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I don’t think that has ever happened in the history of Pittsburgh.”
The terminations come after months of protests calling for the officers to be charged and amid other revelations of misconduct by police. Devon Adwoa, a protest organizer who has spoken on behalf of the Rogers family, told the press that even with the firings, “we need criminal charges filed as soon as possible.” She added there’s “nothing respectable or just about a process that takes six months to fire officers.”
The Tribune-Review quoted the Rogers family saying, “From the beginning, we have been pressing for criminal charges for all of these officers. That has always been the demand.”
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has refused to act on the case, saying he was waiting for the medical examiner’s report. Then, after four months punctuated by protests, he issued a call for a grand jury investigation, which is still taking place. Zappala, who has been the DA for over 20 years, has rarely filed charges in cases where people have died at the hands of the police.
Police surveillance and body camera footage from the confrontation have still not been released. An internal police report released after Rogers’ death revealed he had pleaded for help at least 13 times over a 17-minute period after being put in the back of the police car. “I need a hospital, I can’t breathe, get a medic, help me,” the report quoted him saying.
Maria Montaño, spokeswoman for Mayor Gainey, tried to defend the city’s inaction in an April 4 statement to the Post-Gazette. Saying she wished the administration could be more transparent, “I think this was a learning process for a lot of us, myself included. I didn’t fully understand the scope of what the disciplinary process looks like.”
“The Socialist Workers Party calls for charges against the officers involved, and for public disclosure of the videos and other evidence of what occurred,” Candace Wagner, SWP candidate for governor, told the Militant. “There is no excuse for the delay.”