In this March 12, 2019 file photo, former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, charged with murder in the shooting of Antwon Rose II, walks to the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg, Pa. On the fourth day of the trial in Pittsburgh, Friday, 22 March, 2019, Rosfeld was acquitted of all points in the death of Rose. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
PITTSBURGH – The family of an unarmed black teenager fatally shot by a white police officer is expressing anger and sadness about a jury’s decision to acquit, and Pittsburgh braced for protests a day after the judgment.
Former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld was indicted for manslaughter for the shooting of Antwon Rose II in the back as the 17-year-old walked away from a high-stakes traffic stop last June. But Rosfeld walked from the courtroom a free man Friday, after jurors rejected the prosecution’s argument that he acted as a Rose “judge, jury and executioner,” in the words of an assistant district attorney.
“I hope that man never sleeps at night,” Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, said of Rosfeld, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I hope he gets as much sleep as I do, that is nothing.”
The decision to let Rose’s family to pursue the federal civil rights lawsuit they filed last August against Rosfeld and East Pittsburgh, a small town of about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the center of Pittsburgh.
Rose died — one of the many high-profile deaths of black men and teenagers by white police officers in recent years — spurred angry protests in the Pittsburgh area last year, including a late-night march that shut down a major highway.
The reaction was measured after Friday’s ruling, a small group of chanting protesters briefly blocking intersections and entering hotels. Pittsburgh police tweeted that the “peaceful demonstration” has resulted in the rolling, temporary road closures.
Rose was riding in an illegal taxi that had been involved in a drive-by shooting minutes earlier, when Rosfeld pulled the car over and shot the 17-year-old in the back, arm and side of the face as he walked away. The former officer told jurors he thought that Rose or any other suspect had a gun on him, insisting he fired his weapon to protect himself and the community. Neither a teenager, then stopped for Rosfeld opened fire, but two weapons were later found in the car.
Rose “no threat whatsoever to Rosfeld, or others,” said the family’s lawyer, Fred Rabner. “Make no mistake, there is nothing reasonable or appropriate about the way Officer Rosfeld took Antwon life.”
The panel of seven men and five women — including three black members of the jury saw the video of the fatal confrontation, which showed that the Rose fall on the ground after being hit. The acquittal came after less than four hours of deliberations on the fourth day of the trial.
Attorney Patrick Thomassey, told reporters that Rosfeld is “a good man. He said to me many times, ” Patrick, this has nothing to do with the kid’s color. I did what I was trained to do.'”
Thomassey said that he hoped that the city remained calm, and “everyone takes a deep breath and go on with their lives.”
Michelle Kenney, Rose’s mother said that she was angry but unsurprised by the verdict, given the other cases in which police officers have avoided costs, or won acquittals in similar recordings.
“It’s not what I was hoping, but it is what I expected,” she said, adding she feels that her son will eventually die because he was black.
During the trial, the prosecution and the defense sparred over the question of whether Rosfeld — who had worked for the East Pittsburgh Police Department only a few weeks, and was officially sworn in just hours before the fatal shooting — was justified in the use of deadly force.
Assistant district Attorney Jonathan Fodi explained in his closing argument that Rosfeld had acted as “judge, jury and executioner,” and the video evidence showed “there was no threat” to the officer.
“We don’t have to shoot first and ask questions later,” the prosecutor added.
But a defense expert testified Rosfeld was in his rights to use lethal force to stop suspects he thought had been involved in a shooting. The prosecutors had their own use-of-force expert.
“The prosecution of the treatment of this case, in particular the decision not to call a police expert, raises many questions,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Rose had ridden in the passenger seat of the cab with another resident, Zaijuan Hester, in the back, a window rolled down and shot at two people on the street, hitting one in the abdomen. A few minutes later, Rosfeld spotted their car, which had its rear window shot out, and pulled it on. Rosfeld ordered the driver on the ground, but Rose and another passenger jumped onto the ground and started to walk away. Rosfeld fired three times in quick succession.
The defense said that the shooting was justified because Rosfeld, believed that he was in danger, and could not wait for the other officers to get there.
“He is a sitting duck,” Thomassey told jurors in his closing argument, asking them to consider “the standard of what a reasonable police officer would do under the circumstances.”
Hester, 18, pleaded guilty last week to aggravated assault and firearms violations. Hester told a judge that he is not Rose, so did the shooting.
Prosecutors had brought Rosfeld with an open count of murder, meaning the jury had the option of convicting him of murder or manslaughter. The public ministry said Rosfeld gave inconsistent statements about the shooting, including whether he thought that Rose was armed.
Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania contributed to this story.