Apr. 17—Protesters calling for justice for Jim Rogers — a homeless man who died last year after being repeatedly Tased by a police officer in Bloomfield — clashed with police during a march Saturday along Penn Avenue, ending in the arrests of two people.
The march proceeded peacefully for about an hour. As the group crossed from Point Breeze into Wilkinsburg at the intersection of Penn and Center avenues, “Police said, ‘You need to leave the street,'” said Eve Pfieffer, one of the organizers of Saturday’s march.
Shouting ensued, and “police started putting hands on” some of the protesters, Ms. Pfieffer said. “Then they turned a dog on them.”
A Wilkinsburg police officer appeared to have punched a protester who stepped between officers who were trying to detain two other protesters, described as a mother and her daughter.
Jared Wickerham, 33, of Manchester, a photojournalist for the Pittsburgh City Paper, said he turned around at the exact moment the police officer delivered the punch — and photographed it.
“I don’t know if the protester threw a punch or shoved anyone before the person was punched,” he said.
Wilkinsburg police arrested that person and one of the other two women they initially were attempting to detain.
Wilkinsburg officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Mr. Rogers died in October after repeatedly being Tased by a Pittsburgh police officer who suspected he may have stolen a bike. It turned out that the owner of the bike had been unsuccessful in selling it, so it was being offered for free, according to neighbors.
Before the arrests Saturday, about two dozen people had taken to the streets, demanding that the officers involved be charged in his death.
“This is about justice for Jim. The cops need to be indicted,” said Billy Jo Jordan, uncle of Mr. Rogers, 54, who died at a hospital the day after his encounter with police.
Mr. Jordan said Mr. Rogers didn’t deserve to die.
“He was a good person. He was never violent. It was a great loss,” he said. “We have to rise up together against this kind of abuse.”
Five Pittsburgh police officers were fired in March over the incident on Harriet Street in Bloomfield, where Mr. Rogers was Tased for failing to put his hands behind his back. Three other officers were to be retrained and returned to duty. The Fraternal Order of Police is challenging the firings. An Allegheny County grand jury is investigating to determine whether to prosecute any of those involved.
Mr. Rogers’ niece, Diamond Rogers, said Saturday that the family’s goal from the beginning has been to have criminal charges brought against the officers and is not after money.
She said a sole family member is behind a lawsuit filed this month in federal court in Pittsburgh on behalf of Mr. Rogers’ estate against police officers, paramedics and the city. She said the suit was filed without other family members’ consent.
The civil complaint states that Mr. Rogers was Tased nine or 10 times by Officer Keith Edmonds despite the fact that Mr. Rogers “was not armed and presented no physical threat to him or any third party.”
Other officers and responding paramedics didn’t act to save Mr. Rogers’ life after he was Tased and demonstrated “deliberate indifference” to his fate, according to the suit.
A coroner’s report said Mr. Rogers died because of a lack of oxygen to the brain, and classified the death as “accidental.”
“I don’t want money,” Mr. Jordan said Saturday. “I want justice for my nephew.
“Black people all over the country have been killed by police. Black lives do matter.”
Devon Adwoa, who has acted as the family’s spokeswoman, said it’s been too long to wait for justice.
“It’s been six months and the officers still haven’t been charged,” she said.
Amid a steady rain, the supporters marched about a mile down the middle of Penn Avenue from North Homewood Street in Point Breeze chanting, “One solution. Revolution,” and “Charge these officers.”
Participants were flanked from the front and back by police cruisers and about a half-dozen police on motorcycles.
“Go away. We don’t need you,” one protester yelled to police. “You only protect yourself.”
“Enemies of the people,” the marchers chanted.
Erin Watson of Pittsburgh said she came to the rally to take a stand.
“It’s been way too long — six months,” she said. “I want justice for Jim Rogers and change for the future as well.”
Ms. Rogers, Mr. Rogers’ niece, said support from the community has been a great comfort to her family.
“If it wasn’t for the community, I don’t know how we would have gotten through it,” she said.
Patricia Sabatini: PSabatini@post-gazette.com; 412-263-3066.
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