Homeless Veteran’s Service Dog Dies After Violent Arrest

October 28, 2021Hannah Ray Lambert
Joshua Rohrer veteran service dog Sunshine killed

Joshua Rohrer holds Sunshine in an undated photo. Photo courtesy of Joshua Rohrer/Facebook.

Supporters of a homeless Army veteran plan to rally outside a North Carolina police department Friday, Oct. 29, after they say officers wrongfully arrested Joshua Graham Rohrer and tased his service dog in the process. Rohrer’s VA-prescribed service dog, a Belgian Malinois named Sunshine, later died after escaping from a friend’s house before Rohrer made bail.

Rohrer, who reportedly served in the Army from 2002 to 2008, was standing in a median near an intersection in Gastonia, North Carolina, a town about 20 miles west of Charlotte, on the evening of Oct. 13. Rohrer has been treated for post-traumatic stress, according to WBTV, which included being matched with Sunshine. As Rohrer and the dog stood in a median near a busy shopping center, a woman called 911 to complain that Rohrer was using Sunshine as a prop to garner sympathy — and cash — from drivers. 

“They’re using this dog to make people feel sorry for them, to give them money,” the caller said, according to 911 audio obtained by WBTV. “They have this dog laying in the middle of the, he’s on the median. That poor little dog is laying on the median right there at the red light. He could get ran over.”

Joshua Rohrer veteran service dog Sunshine killed
Army veteran Joshua Rohrer’s service dog, Sunshine, stands on a railing at the beach in an undated photo. The service dog was hit and killed by a car around Oct. 16, 2021. Photo courtesy of Joshua Rohrer/Facebook.

Rohrer told local news outlets he wasn’t begging for food or money. But when officers from the Gastonia Police Department showed up, one officer said she would be giving him a ticket for panhandling, Rohrer said. Panhandling is illegal both at night and within 20 feet of a “financial institution” — which includes ATMs — in North Carolina.

A witness to the arrest told WCNC the confrontation quickly turned violent. After asking Rohrer for identification, police “slammed him up against the car” and handcuffed him, Justyn Huffman told the news station.

Witnesses said one officer tased Sunshine after the dog bit an officer’s boot during the altercation. Police later confirmed that an officer tased the dog.

“We’re out here screaming, ‘Don’t shoot the dog! Don’t shoot the dog!’ Huffman told WCNC. Huffman said Rohrer began yelling “My dog! My dog!” as police moved him to the back of a patrol car and “slammed” him to the ground.

Sunshine ran off with one of the stun gun prongs dangling from her body, witnesses said. Eventually, Rohrer’s VA advocate Dave Dowell brought Sunshine home with him, but the dog slipped her leash and ran away the next morning.

Joshua Rohrer veteran
Joshua Rohrer, right, served in the Army from 2002 to 2008. Photo courtesy of Joshua Rohrer/Facebook.

Rohrer was booked on charges including resisting an officer, begging for money, and soliciting from a highway. Rohrer began searching for Sunshine after family members bailed him out of jail the next day, but supporters announced Oct. 16 that the service dog had been hit and killed by a car.

The Gastonia Police Department told Coffee or Die Magazine that Rohrer is still facing charges related to the incident. The department is also reviewing the circumstances surrounding Rohrer’s arrest to determine whether the actions of the officers involved followed department policies and procedures.

Rohrer’s supporters plan to protest at 5:30 p.m. Friday outside the police department in hopes of pressuring authorities to drop the charges. Supporter Megan Grayson told Coffee or Die that most of those involved support law enforcement but “believe these particular officers were not a great representation.”

Grayson urged everyone attending the protest to remain peaceful.

Read Next: The 4-Legged Fighter Pilot: Why a Coyote Named Jeep Was Buried With Full Military Honors

Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
navy seal training
Navy SEALS Training Plagued by Massive Problems, According To Investigation

Medical oversight and care were “poorly organized, poorly integrated and poorly led and put candidat...

memorial day arlington
Memorial Day Is a Day of Remembrance, Not Celebration

Memorial Day was created as a remembrance to honor the fallen by decorating graves — a holiday meant...

air force joint chiefs
Air Force Fighter Pilot Tapped As Next Joint Chiefs Chairman Has History of Firsts

The Air Force fighter pilot about to be nominated as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ...

sowf special operations warrior foundation
BRCC Donates $500K to Special Operations Warrior Foundation

In an effort to continue Black Rifle Coffee Company’s mission of supporting the veteran community, B...

Coca Cola 600
BRCC to Honor Fallen Marine During NASCAR’s Legendary Coca-Cola 600

Black Rifle Coffee Company will honor Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Menusa during NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 this Memorial Day. Menusa was killed in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq.

uss gerald r. ford oslo
US Aircraft Carrier Arrives In NATO Member Norway, To Take Part In Drills

The nuclear-powered ship USS Gerald R. Ford entered the Oslo fjord escorted by a rapid dinghy-type boat with armed personnel on board.

adam driver indy 500
Marine Vet, Actor Adam Driver Named Honorary Starter for Indianapolis 500

Two-time Academy Award nominee Adam Driver, who will soon be starring as Enzo Ferrari in a biopic of...

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved