A Pittsburgh jury acquitted a white former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in the back last summer as the young man fled a traffic stop. Video of the incident captured by a local resident and posted online went viral and led to weeks of demonstrations.
The panel of five women and seven men — three of them African-American — found former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, 30, not guilty of homicide in the shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II. Rose was a passenger in an unlicensed taxi that had been involved in a drive-by shooting when the former officer pulled the car over and shot Rose three times as he ran away.
Video of the incident was shown to jurors, who watched Rose fall to the ground after the shots were fired, hitting him three times in the upper body, including once in the back.
The jury deliberated for less than four hours before returning the not guilty verdict on the fourth day of the trial, according to The Associated Press.
Earlier on Friday, Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Fodi told jurors in his closing argument that Rosfeld had acted as “judge, jury and executioner,” the AP reported.
But Rosfeld took the stand told a jury that he thought that either Rose or another suspect had a gun, and insisting he fired his weapon to protect himself and the community.
As the verdict was read, Rose’ family remained stoic, according to the AP, as Rosfeld’s wife began sobbing, and she and Rosfeld were hustled out of the courtroom by deputies.
Defense lawyer Patrick Thomassey told reporters after the verdict that Rosfeld is “a good man, he is.” according to the AP. Thomassey said he hoped the city remained calm, and “everybody takes a deep breath and gets on with their lives.”
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. issued a statement after the verdict, saying that “while I respectfully disagree with their verdict, it is the people of this commonwealth who decide guilty or not guilty and they have spoken to this matter. In the interest of justice, we must continue to do our job of bringing charges in situations where charges are appropriate, regardless of the role an individual holds in the community.”
Last June, Rosfeld told ABC affiliate WTAE in Pittsburgh that the shooting occurred just three weeks after he joined the East Pittsburgh Police Department and just hours after he was officially sworn in as an officer on the force.
He said he’s been a police officer since 2011, previously working for the Oakmont, Harmer and University of Pittsburgh police departments, before coming to East Pittsburgh.
Rose’s family released a statement through its legal team saying there “is nothing reasonable or appropriate about the manner Officer Rosefeld took Antwon’s life, and we will unequivocally prove that in Federal court.”
“It goes without saying, our legal team is sick and saddened for Antwon’s family, and friends right now,” counsel Fred G. Rabner said. “And while we can’t undue what has already occurred today in criminal court, I now turn to Antwon’s unyielding supporters and with fire in my heart, I say to you, NOW ITS OUR TURN!”
The family still has a civil suit pending against Rosfeld.
Family attorney S. Lee Merritt expressed his frustration with the verdict in a tweet, writing, “A Pennsylvania jury just concluded that shooting an unarmed black child in the back as he ran away is not Murder, it’s not even criminal. I will never be able to make peace with that. Everything has to change.”
‘Like taking target practice’
Allegheny County Police Department, which investigated Rose’s death, said that Rosfeld pulled the car over because it matched the description of the vehicle involved in the drive-by shooting and that he noticed a bullet hole in the rear window.
While Rosfeld was putting the driver into handcuffs, Antwon and another passenger in the car bolted, according to investigators..
Antwon was taken to nearby University of Pittsburgh Medical Center McKeesport, where he died.
Police said two guns were found inside the car, but Antwon was unarmed when he was shot. Police found a 9mm ammunition clip in his pocket, officials said.
Had it not been for a cell-phone video Shauny Mary, 23, took of the shooting, the story might have ended there.
Mary posted her video on social media, sparking angry protests in the streets of East Pittsburgh and elsewhere.
The video shows Antwon and another man running from the car. Antwon, dressed in a white T-shirt, got about 10 feet before three gunshots sounded and he fell to the ground.
“It was like he was taking target practice out on this young man’s back,” Mary told ABC News. “He didn’t flinch, he didn’t say stop running, he didn’t say anything.”
“He murdered my son in cold blood,” Kenney said. “If he has a son, I pray his heart never has to hurt the way mine does,” Kenney said of the police officer. “But I think he should pay for taking my son’s life. I really do.”
As she spoke through jags of tears, Kenney clutched a Bible in her lap with the words “My son” written on a piece of paper and taped to the cover. On the front of her striped dress, she wore a purple ribbon, which she says was her son’s favorite color.
She spoke of how her son — whom she nicknamed “My Baby” — had traveled around the world, taught himself to ski and play hockey. He had dreams, she said, of going to college and becoming a chemical engineer or a lawyer.
“I knew Antwon was destined for greatness. I told him that all the time,” she said. “I figured he either was going to be an engineer who designed something that changed the world, or he was going to have a case that changed the world. I never knew that he would be the victim of a homicide and change the world. It’s just unimaginable.”
The teen’s father said he saw Mary’s video before it went viral — and he initially didn’t realize it was his son because people were saying the boy who was shot was 13-years-old.
“I never thought that was my son,” he said.