Shortly after a former Pittsburgh police officer was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges on Friday, an attorney for the deceased victim’s family told reporters that he intends to challenge the decision on a federal level. According to a cellphone video of the shooting, the unarmed teen had been running away from the officer when he was killed.
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.
On March 15, Hester pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated assault and four firearms charges in the drive-by shooting last June.
Facing a criminal homicide charge that included murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter, Rosfeld was found not guilty by a jury on Friday. In response to the verdict, S. Lee Merritt, an attorney for the deceased teen’s family, told reporters, “It will have to be challenged, in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. It will have to continue to be challenged on a federal level.”
Merritt added, “Antwon Rose was shot in his back…He was unarmed, and he did not pose a threat to the officer or to the community, and the verdict today says that is OK, that is acceptable behavior from a police officer.”
“Words cannot heal the pain so many are feeling,” Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said in a statement following the verdict. “Only action can begin the process, a process that will take work and understanding. An understanding that inequality exists, and we have a moral obligation to address it.”
As protests spread across the city following the announcement of the verdict, several gunshots were fired into the Monroeville, Pennsylvania, office of Rosfeld’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, during a drive-by shooting. No one was inside the building when the bullets struck.