A jury has found a former East Pittsburgh police officer not guilty of murder in the 2018 killing of an unarmed black teenager.
The jury acquitted former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld after deliberating for less than four hours Friday evening. Demonstrators immediately took to the streets outside the Allegheny County Courthouse to protest the verdict.
Rosfeld, 30, had been charged with criminal homicide in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Antwon Rose on June 19, 2018.
Rose was attempting to flee during a traffic stop when Rosfeld opened fire, striking him three times. The teen was a passenger in a car that matched the description of a vehicle involved in an earlier drive-by shooting in a neighboring borough.
The incident was caught on video and sparked protests across Pittsburgh.
“Antwon Rose was shot in his back which killed him. He was unarmed, he did not pose a threat to the officer or the community, and the verdict today says that that is OK,” Rose family attorney S. Lee Merritt told reporters. “We say it’s not OK.”
After filing the homicide charge against Rosfeld last summer, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. described the shooting as “intentional” and said he felt the court could pursue murder in the first degree.
“Antwon Rose didn’t do anything in North Braddock other than being in that vehicle,” Zappala said during a press conference in June.
In a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News Friday night, Zappala said that while he disagreed with the jury’s verdict, he respected their decision.
“It is the people of this commonwealth who decide guilty or not guilty and they have spoken to this matter,” he said. “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.”
Authorities said video evidence showed Rose did not have a gun when he exited the car.
Rosfeld provided police with inconsistent statements following the shooting, according to police records. In his initial statement, Rosfeld said that he saw “something dark” in Rose’s hand that he thought could be a gun. It was just after that moment that he opened fire, he said.
When asked to go over the sequence of events at the conclusion of his statement, Rosfeld told detectives that he did not see a gun when Rose exited the car and ran. Detectives questioned him about the inconsistencies, and he said he wasn’t sure exactly what Rose was holding.
During the trial, a witness testified that after the shooting he heard Rosfeld say repeatedly, “I don’t know why I shot him. I don’t know why I fired,” according to the Associated Press. Another witness said he heard the officer say, “Why did he do that? Why did he take that out of his pocket?”
The rookie officer had only been with the East Pittsburgh department for three weeks and was officially sworn in the day of the shooting. Rosfeld previously worked at the University of Pittsburgh Police Department.