Rose family lawyer, S. Lee Merritt, left, and Michelle Kenney, center, mother of Antwon Rose II, walk in the direction of the members of the media after closing arguments in the murder trial of the former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, Friday 22 March 2019. at the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh. A jury has begun deliberations in the murder trial of Rosfeld, a white former police officer charged with the killing of Rose, an unarmed black teenager outside of Pittsburgh last summer.(Nate Smallwood/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review via AP, Pool)
PITTSBURGH – A jury on Friday acquitted a white former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in the back as he was fleeing a high-stakes traffic stop outside Pittsburgh, a confrontation that was captured on video and led to weeks of unrest.
Former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld was indicted for manslaughter for the shooting of Antwon Rose II during a traffic stop last June. Rose was riding in an illegal taxi that had been involved in a drive-by shooting 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 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.
The Rose of the family lawyer, S. Lee Merritt, had insisted on a murder conviction, saying: for the conclusion of arguments that it is “pretty clear” Rose was not a threat for Rosfeld.
Rose died — one of the many high-profile deaths of black men and teenagers by white police officers in recent years under the impetus of the protests in the Pittsburgh area last year, including a late-night march that shut down a major highway.
On Friday, Assistant district Attorney Jonathan Fodi explained in his closing argument that Rosfeld had acted as “judge, jury and executioner,”
But the former officer told the jury that he thought that Rose or any other suspect had a gun, insisting he fired his weapon to protect himself and the community.
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.
The prosecutors said Rosfeld gave inconsistent statements about the shooting, including whether he thought that Rose was armed.
The video evidence showed “there was no threat” to the officer, Fodi said in his closing.
“We don’t have to shoot first and ask questions later,” the prosecutor added.
A defense expert testified Rosfeld was in his rights to use lethal force to stop suspects he thought had been involved in a shooting. Rosfeld told the jury that he thought that Rose and the other passenger had pointed a gun at him. Neither a teenager, then stopped for Rosfeld opened fire, but two weapons were later found in the car.
“It happened very quickly,” Rosfeld said. “My intention was to put an end to the threat that was made against me.”
Prosecutors charged Rosfeld with an open count of murder, meaning the jury had the option of convicting him of murder or manslaughter. The defense asked the Judge Alexander Bicket acquit Rosfeld of all charges, but the judge rejected.
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,” attorney Patrick 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.