A jury in Pennsylvania has acquitted a white former police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager in the back, setting off a series of angry protests.
Michael Rosfeld was a rookie officer with the East Pittsburgh Police Department who had been sworn in just hours before shooting 17-year-old Antwon Rose II last June. Rosfeld was charged with murder.
He testified that he pulled over an unlicensed taxi that had been involved in a drive-by shooting and that Rose and another occupant fled the vehicle. Rosfeld told the jury that he thought Rose or the other suspect had a gun. He shot the fleeing Rose in the back, arm and side of the face.
Rosfeld testified that he had shot Rose to protect himself and the community.
Another occupant of the car, Zaijuan Hester, 18, pleaded guilty last week to gun charges, telling a judge that he, not Rose, did the drive-by shooting.
As An-Li Herring of NPR member station WESA reported, Rose’s death was captured on video and later posted on Facebook.
“Rose’s death sparked weeks of protests that shut down local roadways,” said Herring. “Demonstrators felt that Rose’s death fit a national pattern of police brutality against black residents.”
Rosfeld was acquitted by a jury of seven men and five women — a panel that included three black jurors — who viewed the video recording. They deliberated for less than four hours on the fourth day of the trial.
In his closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Fodi said that Rosfeld had acted as “judge, jury and executioner.”
“We don’t shoot first and ask questions later,” said Fodi.
The jury’s decision to acquit Rosfeld was unanimous.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that this was the proper verdict, I give this jury a lot of credit,” Patrick Thomassey, Rosfeld’s lawyer, told reporters outside the courtroom, as quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The verdict was met by expressions of grief and stoicism by Rose’s family and supporters. Some sang and chanted Rose’s name inside and outside the courtroom.