A judge has issued a ruling that could hurt efforts to investigate and possibly prosecute the cops involved in last October’s death of a Black Pittsburgh man who was suffering from homelessness.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala’s office had asked Judge the Allegheny County’s Court of Common Pleas for the right to review a 15-page report on the incident that killed 54-year-old Jim Rogers. Rogers died in a hospital the day after he was shocked eight times with a Taser by cops. The police were called on him after he took a ride on a bike that someone had left on a porch and was trying to get rid of.
The court denied the district attorney’s request for access to the report, even though some of the details had already been leaked to local media and despite prosecutors’ insistence that it might contain information critical to determining whether charges should be filed. Rogers’ death was ruled “accidental” by the local coroner, but that’s a medical instead of a legal finding.
Within that report are crucial details of the events that led to Mr. Roger’s death on Oct. 13, when police were called to Bloomfield by neighbors who reported that Mr. Rogers was allegedly stealing a bicycle that was listed for sale on a lawn and trespassing on a porch.
During the incident, a Pittsburgh Police officer used a Taser on Mr. Rogers multiple times. Despite witnesses saying Mr. Rogers was not aggressive during the incident, police insisted he was noncompliant.
Mr. Rogers was taken to a local hospital by officers and pronounced dead on Oct. 14.
Details of the police’s internal report were first made public in a Dec. 21 article by local news web site TribLive.com. It describes a desperate man confined to the back of a police cruiser begging for help before being shocked multiple times.
Jim Rogers reportedly asked for help at least 13 times as he sat in the back of a Pittsburgh police vehicle after being stunned with a taser eight times on Oct. 13.
For 17 minutes, Rogers banged his head off the seat and repeated, “‘I need a hospital, I can’t breathe, get a medic, help me,’” according to an executive summary of an internal police investigation report obtained by the Tribune-Review.
Yet, during the 17-minute span, two Pittsburgh emergency medical technicians at the scene never tended to Rogers, despite his pleas for help and officers on the scene acknowledging he needed assistance, the report said. Instead, the EMTs decontaminated police officers who had gotten Rogers’ blood on them.
Rogers, a 54-year-old Black man, who was homeless at the time of the incident, died the next day at a Pittsburgh hospital.
The same day that story ran, then Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s office announced that all nine officers involved would face discipline for “procedural failures” but to date their names nor the punishments they face have not been disclosed.
Rogers’ death has inspired protests in Pittsburgh, a white-majority city that recently inaugurated its first-ever Black mayor. Police misconduct was an major issue in last year’s primary race between current Mayor Ed Gainey and Peduto, who at one point in 2020 had protestors march in front of his his home after cops used force against some protestors and tossed another into an unmarked van during other anti-police-violence marches.
The death has also generated calls from local religious leaders and even the Post-Gazette’s editorial board for Zappala’s to hand his investigation over to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office.