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East Pittsburgh police officer acquitted in shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose

The jury took less than four hours to deliberate.

Antwon Rose, 17, was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Antwon Rose, 17, was shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Nickole Nesby via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A white former police officer in Pennsylvania was acquitted on Friday for fatally shooting Antwon Rose II, an unarmed black teenager. Rose, 17, was shot in the back by then-East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld while fleeing from a traffic stop last June.

Rose was sitting in the passenger seat of an unlicensed taxicab when Rosfeld pulled him and another teen, Zaijuan Hester, over. The car matched the description of a vehicle involved in a drive-by shooting that had occurred just minutes earlier. Once stopped, Rose and Hester quickly bolted from the car. Rosfeld then opened fire and shot Rose three times in his back, arm, and face.

Rosfeld, who had been sworn in as a rookie officer with the East Pittsburgh Police Department only hours before the shooting, was charged with criminal homicide in Rose’s death. A police affidavit used to charge Rosfeld showed that the officer had given conflicting statements to investigators over the course of interviews with detectives. In an initial interview, Rosfeld suggested Rose may have been carrying something resembling a gun when he shot the teenager, but when detectives followed up, Rosfeld clarified that he did not see whether or not Rose was armed.

On Friday, however, a jury acquitted Rosfeld of all counts in a deliberation that took less than four hours. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., who tried the case in Allegheny County, said in a statement that he disagreed with the verdict but respected the jury’s decision.

“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,” Zappala said.

Rose’s family on Friday condemned the verdict. “I hope that man never sleeps at night,” the teen’s mother, Michelle Kenney, said according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I hope he gets as much sleep as I do, which is none.”

Police are rarely prosecuted for shootings

Protests against the not-guilty verdict quickly broke out in Pittsburgh on Friday as demonstrators expressed their disappointment that yet another police officer failed to be held accountable for shooting an unarmed black child.

Rose’s case is the latest example of a high-profile shooting in which stark racial disparities were evident — namely that the police officer was white, and the victim was unarmed and black. Black Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to be the victims of deadly police force, the Guardian found in 2016. As many as 221 people have already been shot dead by police this year alone, according to data tracked by the Washington Post.

The case is also another example of how law enforcement has an exceptional amount of leeway in police-involved shootings. As Vox’s German Lopez highlighted shortly after Rose’s death last June, even when cops are charged with using deadly force, statistics show they rarely face prison time as a result:

If police are charged, they’re very rarely convicted. The National Police Misconduct Reporting Project analyzed 3,238 criminal cases against police officers from April 2009 through December 2010. They found that only 33 percent were convicted, and only 36 percent of officers who were convicted ended up serving prison sentences. Both of those are about half the rate at which members of the public are convicted or incarcerated.

Rose’s family says they still hope this case will be an exception to that trend. Plans are already in the works to have the case challenged in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the family’s attorney S. Lee Merritt told reporters Friday.

“Antwon Rose was shot in his back. ... He was unarmed, and he did not pose a threat to the officer or to the community, and the verdict today says that is okay, that is acceptable behavior from a police officer,” Merritt said.

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