Homeless veteran receives new service dog after previous found dead following controversial arrest

Gastonia veteran receives new service dog
Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 7:16 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) -A homeless Iraqi war veteran now has a new service dog after his previous one died following a controversial arrest in Gaston County.

Joshua Rohrer is currently training nine-week-old Justice Rae after his old beloved companion, Sunshine Rae, was hit and killed by a car after escaping a temporary custody arrangement following Rohrer’s arrest on October 13th.

“I named her Justice Rae because we intend to get justice for Sunshine,” said Rohrer.

Last month, Rohrer was living in a camp near the shopping center at the intersection of Cox Road and Gastonia Mall Drive in Gastonia.

He says he wasn’t begging for food or money, just saying hello to people visiting the area. Then, Gastonia police were called and Rohrer was eventually arrested and charged with resisting an officer, soliciting from the highway, and begging for money.

Related: ‘Just smile’: Gastonia community rallies behind homeless veteran after service dog found dead

‘Just smile’: Gastonia community rallies behind homeless veteran after service dog found dead

However, it was the arrest itself that sparked outrage, many questioning the extent of force used to take Rohrer into custody. Gastonia Police also confirmed that Rohrer’s service dog, Sunshine Rae, was tased in the incident.

“Basically, [they] used excessive force on me to arrest me for something I didn’t even do,” said Rohrer.

‘We are a team:’ Homeless Gastonia veteran’s service dog found dead after being separated during his arrest

Many have called for the release of police bodycam footage, including Rohrer who was in court Thursday afternoon petitioning for the video.

“It’s going to show that my civil rights were violated, that they had no cause to harass me,” said Rohrer. “It’ll show that Sunshine getting tased. It’s going to show complete chaos...and it’s going to show a tragedy.”

That tragedy was what was the eventual outcome for Sunshine Rae, who was given to Rohrer who is living with PTSD. Sunshine Rae was placed in a temporary home but broke free, only to later be hit and killed by a car.

When asked if he held Gastonia Police partially responsible for what happened to Sunshine Rae, Rohrer emphatically stated, “Absolutely; 1000 percent.”

Gastonia Police did say they are investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding Rohrer’s arrest, and released a statement shortly after her death saying in part:

The Department fully understands the emotional impact that this entire incident, which includes the reported death of Sunshine, has had on all parties who are directly involved in this case. The Department also fully understands the emotional impact that this case has had on the local community and on the United States military community.

Their full statement can be found here.

Meanwhile, Rohrer was gifted Justice Rae by a good Samaritan who saw the story that gained local and national attention. Justice Rae -a precocious, playful pup in training who almost refuses to sit still- is named after Sunshine Rae -he says- as a reminder of the friend he lost.

“She’s my new baby,” he said. “I’ve been training her to prepare her for the big shoes she’s gotta fill. She’s living her best life right now, enjoying the sunshine.”

Rohrer says now he wants the officers who arrested him to be held responsible and believes Sunshine Rae never should’ve been taken away from him. Now an advocate for others who use service dogs, he says educating the community on their importance is essential in ensuring this doesn’t happen to someone else.

“That seems to be the biggest hurdle for service dog teams and disabled people with service dogs, going out in public,” said Rohrer. “That service dog is like a wheelchair, it’s like a prosthetic. It is absolutely necessary for us to function independently in society. And people take that away from us on a daily basis.”

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