Former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld Found Not Guilty In Antwon Rose Shooting
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) -- A jury has found former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, who is charged in the June 2018 shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II, not guilty.
The jury reached their verdict after deliberating for about three and a half hours Friday.
There was high emotion in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
The judge ruled that Rosfeld be taken off electronic monitoring, which he had been on since July 2018.
Rosfeld, his wife, his parents and the rest of his family were taken out of the courtroom under guard after the verdict was read.
The Rose family was then also taken out of the courtroom under guard. Their frustration and disappointment was evident. They had no immediate reaction to the verdict.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala issued the following statement regarding the verdict:
"I have always believed that the criminal justice system belongs to the people and the best example of that is when 12 men and women sit in a room and deliberate how best to pass judgement onto one of their peers, indeed that is the foundation on which the entire criminal justice system is built.
"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."
Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted the following statement:
"Tonight I grieve with Antwon's family, friends, and the entire community. Words cannot heal the pain so many are feeling. Only action can begin the process, a process that will take work & understanding.
"An understanding that inequality exists & we have a moral obligation to address it. I offer the full support of the city of Pittsburgh, to help us find light in darkness."
Watch Ralph Iannotti's report --
Lee Merritt, the attorney for Rose's family, said the verdict was "disappointing" for the family.
"Suffice to say, the conclusion of this jury of not guilty on all counts for the murder of Antwon Rose is very disappointing for this family. Unfortunately, I had to walk a lot of families through verdicts that go contrary at least to what most people would expect from the video evidence that shook a nation, shook a community. Antwon Rose was shot in his back, which killed him. He was unarmed and he did not pose a threat to the officer and to the community, and the verdict today says that is OK, that that is acceptable behavior for a police officer, and on behalf of the Rose family, on behalf of the African-American community and lovers of justice, we say it's not OK. Obviously something has to change. I've had some candid conversations with litigators from this department and throughout the country. Quite frankly I don't believe the commonwealth's statute as it relates to use of force is consistent with the Constitution. It will have to be challenged in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. It will have to continue to be challenged on a federal level, and we look forward to moving forward with our civil rights suit that we'll continue to prosecute Mr. Rosfeld for the wrongful death of Antwon Rose as well as the institution, the city of East Pittsburgh, the policing community that continues to allow this kind of unnecessary and unconstitutional deaths to occur. I have to emphasize that the point of the ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit, which we believe is very well settled, which is not only to hold Rosfeld accountable, but to hold institutions accountable. When you have institutionally racist systems, institutionally biased systems in favor of law enforcement, you can never really get justice," Merritt said.
A short time after the prosecution rested its case on Friday, Merritt made a prediction that the evidence was strong enough for the jury to return a guilty verdict.
Watch Lee Merritt speak --
Merritt said he didn't expect the jury to return so quickly.
"I think that there was enough evidence in this case to merit longer deliberation and more consideration of the entire evidence, given the gravity of the situation. I've said repeatedly throughout this trial that the humanity of Antwon Rose wasn't put on display, and I think that if they were considering that they were valuing the live of a beautiful, intelligent, valuable member of this community, then it should have been afforded more time," Merritt said.
Merritt went on to say the family was devastated, but "encouraged because our fight continues."
Merritt later issued the following statement:
"While the family of Antwon Rose is devastated that former officer Michael Rosfeld was acquitted today, they are grateful for the support of the community and from many around the country.
Although the facts of the case seemed clear cut, namely that Antwon Rose was shot in the back as he ran from officer Rosfeld; the jury's verdict was heavily influenced by flaws in current Pennsylvania law that contradict protections afforded citizens by the U.S. Constitution.
Antwon's family and I will be working to change those laws in an effort to prevent other families from suffering a similar disappointment.
We will also focus our efforts on holding those accountable for Antwon's death through our civli suit.
The fight for justice is never easy, but we will make every effort to protect the memory and legacy of Antwon Rose."
Watch Patrick Thomassey speak --
Defense attorney Patrick Thomassey reacted to the verdict after it was read.
"I don't have any question in my mind that this was the proper verdict. I give this jury a lot of credit. This was a very hard case. I would point out to you that this was not an all-white jury. There are African Americans on this jury. They listened to the facts. They listened to the law, and in my opinion, they rendered the correct verdict. And I'm gonna say this right now, this case had nothing to do with race, absolutely nothing to do with race, and certain people in this city have made it that way and it's sad. Mike Rosfeld was doing his job. He did his job. Had nothing to do with the color of anybody he was arresting. And I'm glad the case is over. I hope everybody just gets on with their lives, including Mr. Rosfeld and including me, to tell you the truth," defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said. "He's maintained from the beginning that he just was trying to do what he was supposed to do. There's a car that's involved in trying to murder two people up the road. What's he supposed to do? And if you heard Mr. Joe, the expert, who I think is the best guy in the state, he said he did what he was supposed to do. Think about it. What if this is happening in your neighborhood? Supposed to let them go? Really? That's not what we want. We want to be safe in our homes. We want the police officers to make us safe, and that's exactly what happened here."
Thomassey said he couldn't remember what he said to Rosfeld after the verdict was read.
"He's a good man. He is. He said to me so many times, Patrick, it had nothing to do with the kid's color, I just was doing what I was trained to do," Thomassey said. "He wasn't pulling him over for going through a stop sign. He was pulling him over for a shooting. This case has drained everybody involved in it."
Watch protesters react after the verdict --
A large crowd of protesters began to gather outside the Allegheny County Courthouse shortly after the verdict was announced.
At one point, one protester read a poem Rose wrote two years before he was killed that said in part, "I AM NOT WHAT YOU THINK! I am confused and afraid. I wonder what path I will take."
The Pittsburgh Department of Public Safety released the following statement around 10:30 p.m.
"While preparing for the end of the Michael Rosfeld trial, the focus and singular goal of the City of Pittsburgh's Public Safety Department was to keep the city safe.
"That remains our focus tonight. It will remain our focus in the days to come.
"If demonstrations occur, Pittsburgh Police will be present to assure safety for everyone -- including demonstrators, residents, business owners and visitors to our city.
"We know from experience that when Pittsburgh experiences hardships, we come together as a community.
"Public Safety's mission is and always will be to keep everyone safe."
- Former Officer Michael Rosfeld Not Guilty: Hundreds Of Protesters Take To Pittsburgh Streets
- 'I Was Not Surprised At The Verdict, We've Seen It In Baltimore, We've Seen It In Ferguson:' Pa. State Rep. Responds To Michael Rosfeld Not Guilty Verdict
- Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto: 'I Grieve With Antwon Rose's Family, Friends, And The Entire Community'
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Rosfeld shot and killed Rose last summer after pulling over an unlicensed taxicab suspected to have been involved in a drive-by shooting minutes earlier. Rose, a passenger in the vehicle, was shot in the back as he fled.
The fact that Rosfeld shot Rose was never in dispute; instead, the jury was tasked with deciding if the shooting was justified.
Prosecutors charged Rosfeld with an open count of homicide, meaning the jury could convict Rosfeld of murder or manslaughter. The defense argued a murder charge wasn't appropriate in the case.
"What we have is a police officer doing his duty. There's not a hardness of heart required for first- or third-degree murder," defense lawyer Patrick Thomassey argued in court. "We have a burst of three shots in one second on a fleeing felon and we're going to charge him with murder? It's not fair."
The trial began on Tuesday morning with opening statements, lasting about 45 minutes. After that, the prosecution began presenting their case.
The prosecution called numerous witnesses to take the stand, including people who witnessed the shooting as well as experts from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office.
One witness quoted what he said he heard Rosfeld say in the aftermath of the shooting, questioning his own actions. John Leach said he saw Rosfeld crying and hyperventilating, saying, "Why did I shoot? Why did I fire?"
The prosecution rested its case on Thursday afternoon. In the minutes after, the defense asked for an acquittal, requesting the judge to drop the first-, second- and third-degree homicide considerations.
The judge denied the request and the defense began to present their case Thursday afternoon with Rosfeld taking the stand in his own defense.
On the stand, Rosfeld said, "I was upset and shocked. I could see the wound on his face. He was moaning, trying to breath."
The jury was sequestered in a downtown hotel for the trial.
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