East Pittsburgh Police Officer Who Shot Antwon Rose Charged With Homicide

Jun 27, 2018

East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, who shot and killed 17-year-old Antwon Rose, has been charged with one count of criminal homicide.

Officials say Rosefeld surrendered himself around 7 a.m. Wednesday morning. 

Magisterial District Judge Regis Welsh assigned a $250,000 unsecured bond to Rosfeld. Defendants facing homicide charges are often not granted bail at all, and a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala said in a statement this morning that the DA's office opposed granting it in this case. A preliminary hearing, during which a judge hears evidence and decides if the case is strong enough to go to trial, is slated for July 6. 

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala speaking to the media after East Pittsburgh officer Michael Rosfeld was charged on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
Credit Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

An order, signed by the prosecution and defense attorney, stipulates that Rosfeld will be held on electronic home monitoring.   

But activists are already perturbed by Welsh's decision to not require Rosfeld to put bail money upfront -- and they are pledging to keep up the public pressure. Activist Brandi Fisher, who has been an organizer of the recent protests, said, "I don't know if there's been anyone in the history of Allegheny County that [was arraigned] and walked out without paying a dime [towards bail] on a murder charge. They're already not pursuing this case like they would any other case."

"We're not stopping, we're going to keep pressing," she added. "The people are not going to stop ... Right now we're looking at the injustice that we're faced with with him being freed." 

Mitch Mitchell, who owns a Pittsburgh bail bond firm and heads a statewide association of bail agents, said that while the bail decision might be surprising, it wasn't shocking

"I can see the arguments that will be made: We're treating this white police officer differently. But there are so many factors involved, and bail is a matter of judicial discretion."

Allegheny County, he said, relies less heavily on cash bail than other areas, and "all the parties here were mobilized," with defense attorney Patrick Thomassey on hand. 

"I'd have thought bail would be denied and there'd be a full-blown hearing in front of a judge," he said. But he said he'd seen other defendants in felony cases walk free, and that there may have been concern about how Rosfeld would fare in jail.

"There's a substantial burden to protect this individual," he said. 

Last Tuesday, Rosfeld pulled over a car driving through East Pittsburgh that was believed to be involved in a drive-by a short time earlier. While the car was pulled over, Rose and another teen ran from the car. As Rose was running, Rosfeld shot him three times, killing the teen.

According to a police affidavit, Rosfeld offered conflicting accounts of what happened after he pulled over the vehicle. Initially, Rosfeld told detectives that as he was detaining the driver, the passenger in the front seat exited the car "and he, Officer Rosfeld, saw something dark that he perceived as a gun. This observation caused him to step from behind the cover of his car door to acquire a better view. He then fired his weapon."

But later, when detectives asked him to recount the sequence of events, "Rosfeld told the detectives that he did not see a gun when the passenger emerged and ran. When confronted with this inconsistency, Rosfeld stated he saw something in the passenger's hand but was not sure what it was. In addition, Officer Rosfeld stated that he was not certain if the individual who had his arm pointed at him was still pointing at him when he fired the shots."

In a press conference Wednesday, Zappala said Rosfeld shot to kill and indicated that he was wrong to do so when Rose wasn't armed. 

“You do not shoot somebody in the back if they are not a threat to you,” Zappala said later in the press conference.

Rosfeld was sworn-in as an East Pittsburgh police officer earlier the same night as Rose was killed. However, he had worked as a police officer for several years in other departments, including most recently at the University of Pittsburgh until early this year. He has been on administrative leave since the shooting occurred. 

The charge against him comes a day after authorities arrested another teenager, Zaijuan Hester, in connection with the drive-by shooting that started the chain of events that led to Rose's shooting.

The affidavit also raises more questions about TV news reports, aired by KDKA and WPXI last week, that claimed police had evidence showing Rose fired a weapon in the North Braddock drive-by. The affidavit says that video evidence shows the shots were fired from the back seat of the car, by a black male wearing a dark shirt. But subsequent evidence, including the eyewitness account of the driver, showed that Rose was in the car's front seat, wearing a light-colored shirt. 

According to the affidavit, Rose and another passenger -- previosly identified by authorities as Hester -- caught a ride with the driver, who police have not named, in the Hawkins Village housing complex. They asked to be taken to East Pittsburgh's Grandview Avenue, but passed a market in North Braddock. 

"As they approached the market, [the driver] heard the male in the rear seat ask, 'Is that him?' Then [the driver] heard gunfrie, which he believed came from inside his vehicle." 

The car was pulled over a short time later. Rosfeld, by all accounts, ordered the driver to exit the car and lay down on the ground. From there, the driver "could only see the passengers' feet as they exited the car. [He] saw their feet turn to run, and then heard several gunshots."

A funeral for Rose was held Monday.

His death has sparked days of protests, shutting down traffic on major highways and intersections. Protesters have been calling for justice and criticizing Zappala.

After police filed the charge against Rosfeld, civil rights attorney S. Lee Merrit who is representing Rose's family tweeted, "This is a small stride toward justice but we have a very long road ahead."

While it is notoriously difficult to secure convictions against police, this is the second time Zappala has charged a county police officer with homicide. In 1999, he prosecuted John Charmo, an officer with Pittsburgh's Housing Authority, for fatally shooting black motorist Jerry Jackson during a 1995 chase that ended in the Armstrong Tunnel. A jury deadlocked on the original charges, though Charmo later plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

This is a breaking news story. 90.5 WESA will be updating it as new information becomes available. 

Sarah Kovash and the Associated Press contributed to this report.