Pittsburgh, PA – The Allegheny County District attorney has announced his intent to prosecute the officer who fatally shot a 17 year old who had just participated in a drive-by shooting.
Prosecutors plan to argue that East Pittsburgh Officer Michael Rosfeld be charged with first-degree murder in the June 19 shooting death of Antwon Rose, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said during a Wednesday press conference.
Much of the information Zappala referenced as justification for the criminal homicide charge against Officer Rosfeld was related to evidence uncovered long after the officer’s split-second decision to fire his weapon – facts Officer Rosfeld had no way of knowing prior to the fatal shooting.
Zappala said that there was “no justification” for the officer’s decision to fire his weapon at the teen, due in part to investigators’ later findings that Rose had not been the shooter in a drive-by attack in North Braddock that preceded Officer Rosfeld’s decision to stop the vehicle that Rose was traveling in.
According to the criminal complaint, the driver of the suspect vehicle, referred to only as “Witness # 5,” said that two males, later identified as Rose and 17-year-old Zaijuan Hester, had asked him for a ride to East Pittsburgh.
The witness, who was also a jitney driver, agreed to transport the teens.
According to Zappala, Rose was sitting in the front passenger seat and Hester was riding in the back seat.
“Is that him?” Hester asked Rose as the car passed a market in North Braddock, according to the driver.
Hester then opened fire, Zappala said.
A 22-year-old male was shot during the North Braddock incident, and police radio communications initially reported that the victim had sustained a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Witnesses provided investigators with a description of the suspect vehicle, which was then broadcasted to other responding officers.
Aware that the occupants of the suspect vehicle could still be armed, Officer Rosfeld stopped the light gold Chevrolet Cruze, which had gunshot damage to it, within minutes of the shooting in North Braddock.
The officer told investigators that he immediately radioed that he was conducting a felony stop, and exited his vehicle with his weapon drawn, according to the complaint.
The lone officer ordered the 20-year-old driver to exit the vehicle and lie down on the ground.
According to the criminal complaint, a witness observed Officer Rosfeld handcuff the driver just before he ordered the other two occupants out of the vehicle.
However, Officer Rosfeld told investigators that Rose exited the suspect vehicle prior to him issuing any commands for him to do so, according to the complaint.
Rose then turned his hand towards Officer Rosfeld, at which point the officer said he “saw something dark that he perceived as a gun,” the report read.
Officer Rosfeld told investigators that he stepped out from behind the cover of his patrol vehicle and fired his weapon. At the same moment, Hester jumped out of the passenger backseat and took off, the officer said.
Rose was shot three times during the encounter with Officer Rosfeld, Zappala said.
One bullet traveled through his elbow, another entered his cheek and exited his nasal cavity, and a third round – which proved to be fatal – entered his “mid-back” and became lodged in his chest.
Upon further questioning, Officer Rosfeld said he did not see a gun in Rose’s hand, but clarified that he “saw something in [Rose’s] hand but was not sure what it was,” police said.
At the hospital, homicide detectives found an empty 9mm Glock magazine in Rose’s front right pocket, according to the complaint.
A stolen .40-caliber handgun was recovered from beneath Rose’s seat, Zappala said. He confirmed it was the weapon used in the North Braddock attack, and said it has also been tied to “three or four” other crimes.
A stolen 9mm handgun, which police located under the driver’s seat, had not been fired during either of the June 19 shootings, according to Zappala.
Zappala said that Rose posed no risk of harm to the officer or others because he was later found to be unarmed. He noted that Rose also raised his hands before he turned and fled.
Using surveillance footage from the North Braddock shooting, investigators determined that Rose “didn’t fire a gun at all that night,” he added.
Hester was responsible for the North Braddock attack, and will be charged as an adult, Zappala said.
The prosecutor refused to comment regarding why Rose had decided to get into the vehicle with Hester.
"Whether he was the shooter or not is actually 100 percent irrelevant to the justification, and it's disturbing that the DA doesn't seem to understand that,” said Christopher Berg, Editor in Chief of Blue Lives Matter. “What's relevant is if Officer Rosfeld had probable cause at the time of the shooting that Rose had committed a crime involving the infliction of serious physical injury.”
“Rose was actually involved in the drive-by whether he pulled the trigger or not,” Berg noted. “Information released suggests that the officer had probable cause at the time of the shooting that Rose was involved in the drive-by.”
The prosecutor declared that Officer Rosfeld’s actions were “intentional” and alleged that he “was not acting to prevent death or bodily injury.”
Because Rose had not committed a “forcible felony,” was unarmed, and did not have the means by which to “take a human life,” Officer Rosfeld was not justified in shooting him, Zappala said.
“You can’t take somebody’s life under these circumstances,” he asserted. “You do not shoot somebody in the back if they’re not a threat to you.”
Zappala said he did not know whether Officer Rosfeld had said that he believed his own life was in danger during the encounter, and added that he “objected” to Officer Rosfeld having been released on $250,000 bond.
Officer Rosfeld has worked as a law enforcement officer since 2011, having served in Harmar Township and Oakmont before he joined the University of Pittsburgh Police Department in October of 2012.
The university confirmed that the officer was “dismissed for cause” in January, but would not disclose details about the termination of his employment, KDKA reported.
Officer Rosfeld’s university personnel file has been turned over to authorities investigating Rose’s death.
He was hired by the East Pittsburgh Police Department three weeks prior to the fatal encounter, and was formally sworn in as a police officer just 90 minutes before the shooting occurred, CBS News reported.
Officer Rosfeld has been on paid administrative leave since the officer-involved shooting.