Antwon Rose trial: White police officer acquitted of murder in fatal shooting of teenager

Toyin Owoseje

The mother of an unarmed black teenager fatally shot by a white police officer as he fled a traffic stop has expressed her anger and devastation over a jury’s decision to acquit the officer.

Former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld was charged with homicide for shooting Antwon Rose II last June in one of the many high-profile killings of black people by white police officers.

The deadly confrontation, captured on video, led to weeks of unrest and angry protests in the Pittsburgh last year, including a late-night march that shut down a major motorway.

Rose’s father pleaded for peace on Saturday after the verdict sparked protests on the streets of Pittsburgh.

Police put officers on 12-hour shifts until further notice as hundreds of people gathered at an intersection named Freedom Corner in the Hill District neighbourhood, the historic centre of black cultural life in Pittsburgh. One man held a sign with the names of black men killed by police around the US.

The mostly white crowd then marched through downtown Pittsburgh and other city neighbourhoods, periodically blocking streets as they chanted: ”Who did this? Police did this!”

The protest soon moved onto the University of Pittsburgh campus. Police reported no immediate arrests or injuries.

“It’s very painful to see what happened, to sit there and deal with it,” Rose’s father, Antwon Rose Sr, told the crowd. “I just don’t want it to happen to our city no more.”

Afterwards, he told reporters: “I want peace, period, all the way around. ... Just because there was violence doesn’t mean that we counter that with violence.”

On Friday, a panel of seven men and five women, including three black jurors, reached their verdict after less than four hours of deliberations.

Reacting to the verdict, Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, said of Mr Rosfeld: “I hope that man never sleeps at night. I hope he gets as much sleep as I do, which is none.”

Rose,17, had been riding in the front seat of an unlicensed cab when Zaijuan Hester, in the back, rolled down a window and shot at two men on the street.

A few minutes later Mr Rosfeld pulled the car over and shot Rose in the back, arm, and the side of the face as he ran away.

He told the court he thought Rose or another suspect had a gun pointed at him.

Neither teen was holding one when Mr Rosfeld opened fire, though two semi-automatic handguns were later found in the car.

Former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld (AP)

Antwon’s family’s lawyer had pushed for a murder conviction, saying it had been “pretty obvious” the teenager posed no threat to the police officer, who had only been sworn in to the police department hours prior to the fatal shooting.

Fred Rabner told the jury: “Make no mistake, there is nothing reasonable or appropriate about the manner Officer Rosfeld took Antwon’s life.”

Defence lawyer Patrick Thomassey told reporters Mr Rosfeld was “a good man” and the case had “nothing to do with the kid’s colour”.

Prosecutors claimed the new recruit gave inconsistent statements about the shooting, including whether he thought Rose was armed.

Family members of Antwon Rose II embrace as they listen to speakers during a protest calling for justice for the 17-year-old (Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

During the four-day trial witness John Leach told the jury he heard Mr Rosfeld crying and hyperventilating after the shooting and repeatedly saying: ‘I don’t know why I shot him. I don’t know why I fired.’

However, a defence expert testified Mr Rosfeld was justified in using lethal force to protect himself and the community if he thought a suspect had just been involved in a shooting.

In his closing argument assistant district attorney Jonathan Fodi declared Mr Rosfeld had acted as “judge, jury and executioner,” and the video evidence showed “there was no threat” to the officer.

Rose’s mother added she was unsurprised by the verdict: “It isn’t what I hoped for, but it’s what I expected.

Her family will now pursue the federal civil rights lawsuit they filed last August against Mr Rosfeld and East Pittsburgh police.

Additional reporting by agencies