Recorded on a cellphone video gunning down an unarmed 17-year-old running away from a traffic stop, a Pittsburgh police officer was recently charged with criminal homicide. Although the officer initially reported seeing a gun in the teenager’s hand, he later told detectives that he never saw the teen holding a gun.
On June 19, Pittsburgh police officers responded to reports of a drive-by shooting in North Braddock. According to Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, police acquired surveillance footage of a vehicle fleeing the scene of the shooting.
After locating the vehicle and conducting a traffic stop, East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld can be seen on a cellphone video standing next to the vehicle when 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. began to flee on foot. Instead of pursuing the unarmed teen, Officer Rosfeld immediately opened fire, fatally shooting Rose in the face, right elbow, and mid-back.
After the shooting, Rosfeld initially told detectives that Rose had turned his hand toward the officer while holding “something dark that he perceived as a gun.” But according to the detectives, Rosfeld later changed his story during subsequent interviews.
“During that rendition, Rosfeld told the detectives that he did not see a gun when the passenger emerged and ran. When confronted with this inconsistency, Rosfeld stated he saw something in the passenger’s hand but was not sure what it was,” detectives wrote in the complaint. “In addition, Officer Rosfeld stated that he was not certain if the individual who had his arm pointed at him was still pointing at him when he fired the shots.”
According to Zappala, Rose had been sitting in the front passenger seat while wearing a white t-shirt, but the shooter in the video was sitting in the backseat and wearing a dark shirt. Zaijuan Hester, 17, had been sitting in the backseat and wearing a black t-shirt before fleeing on foot along with Rose.
Later located and arrested on June 26, Hester was charged as an adult with aggravated assault, possession of a firearm by a minor, receiving stolen property, and criminal attempt. Although both Rose and Hester were unarmed during the traffic stop, police found two firearms inside the vehicle, including the gun used in the prior drive-by shooting. Police suspect Hester was the actual shooter.
“Based on that evidence I find that Rosfeld’s actions were intentional and they certainly brought about the result that he was looking to accomplish,” Zappala stated during a press conference on Wednesday. “He was not acting to prevent death or serious bodily injury. It is my position that he is not entitled to a justification charge to a jury as a defense.
“Antwon Rose didn’t do anything in North Braddock other than be in that vehicle. And you have to possess a weapon. Neither of those young men were in possession of a weapon. You have to otherwise indicate that somebody is in a position to take human life and that is not the case here.”
Zappala added, “Taking human life is one of the most important things in this community, dealing with these types of tragedies. You do not shoot somebody in the back if they are not a threat to you.”
After the shooting, Rosfeld was placed on paid administrative leave. On Wednesday, he was charged with criminal homicide, and a preliminary hearing is set for July 6.
Attorneys for the Rose family have reportedly filed a writ to obtain Rosfeld’s personnel file in order to possibly reveal a history of falsifying police reports while working for previous departments.
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