Officer who shot Antwon Rose should be charged, Pennsylvania lawmakers say

State reps. Austin Davis, Ed Gainey, and Jake Wheatley are also calling for a bipartisan caucus on police violence.

A demonstrator holds a sign to protest the death of Antwon Rose.

A demonstrator holds a sign to protest the death of Antwon Rose.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
Sarah Anne Hughes

HARRISBURG, Pa. — As family and friends said goodbye Monday to Antwon Rose II, a group of state lawmakers called for Allegheny County’s district attorney to bring charges against the officer who shot the 17-year-old three times in the back.

“What we clearly see is a young man running away, fleeing,” state Rep. Jake Wheatley said of bystander video showing the moments before Rose was shot in East Pittsburgh. While the video doesn’t capture what led up to the moment, Wheatley said it’s clear from the information available that Rose “didn’t pose an immediate harm” to the officer.

Reps. Wheatley, Austin Davis, and Ed Gainey — joined by their Allegheny County colleagues Dan Frankel and Dan Miller, black caucus chairman Jordan Harris, and other Democrats — also called for the creation of a “framework” that could prevent future police shootings.

That would include a bipartisan caucus on police-community relations and criminal justice issues; a licensing board similar to those that oversee medical professionals and hair salons; and diversity education for police across the commonwealth.

“If you want to be a cop in an urban environment,” Gainey said, then “you need to understand who we are and how to serve us.”

Davis, Gainey, and Wheatley are members of the Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition, which earlier Monday called on Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. to “immediately” charge the officer involved.

“Officer Michael Rosfeld took the judicial system into his own hands when he ended Antwon’s life,” the lawmakers wrote. “A fair and impartial jury, representative of the community, now deserves an opportunity to assess Officer Rosfeld’s actions and deliver a verdict.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto also said today that he believes Rosfeld should face a jury, according to the Post-Gazette. “And I think that when you see people marching, what they’re marching for is to make sure there’s so much attention brought to this that you can’t just let it go away.”

Their calls follow days of protests in Pittsburgh and surrounding communities.

Rose was a passenger in a vehicle Rosfeld pulled over Tuesday because it matched the description of one involved in an earlier shooting. He and another passenger ran from the vehicle.

Rosfeld joined the East Pittsburgh force in May and was sworn in on the night of the shooting. He left a job with the University of Pittsburgh’s police department because of questions about his handling of an arrest, the Post-Gazette reported.

“The community has made it clear, I think, that they want a conclusion brought to this matter as rapidly as possible, but you’ve got to keep in mind justice is a process, so you’ve got to take this through the steps,” Zappala told reporters Friday.

He has declined to further discuss Rose’s death until after the teen’s funeral. “Out of respect for the grieving process that the family and friends of Mr. Rose are going through and the upcoming Monday funeral for Mr. Rose, District Attorney Zappala will not have any further comment until next week,” his spokesperson said last week.

Activists and demonstrators have already pledged to vote Zappala out of office in 2019.

“I will devote my energy to building a political action committee that can help fund a candidate to run against Zappala and to encourage African Americans to vote,” Leon Ford wrote today in a column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He was shot and paralyzed by a Pittsburgh officer in 2012.

When asked about reaction from Pittsburgh lawmakers and officials to Rose’s death, Gainey said the tragedy gives the region an opportunity to show that it’s inclusive.

“I think we woke up,” Gainey said. “For this gentlemen to be fleeing with no weapon — three shots to the back — it crystalized exactly what we know is going on in America today. And because it crystalized it, you see people waking up. I believe Western Pennsylvania … has woke up to wanting to see better police-community relations.”

‘We can’t operate as normal anymore’

As Davis pointed out at Monday’s press conference, there are 130 municipalities in Allegheny County; more than 100 have their own police departments. Part of the proposed caucus’ work would be examining if this is the best structure.

Like medical marijuana and the opioid crisis, Wheatley said he hopes to have bipartisan support. Gainey echoed this sentiment, calling police violence a “public health crisis.”

“Enough is enough,” Wheatley said. “We can’t operate as normal anymore.”

Rep. Joseph Markosek, who represents the district where Rose was killed, did not attend Monday’s press event. In a statement Friday, he said, “It’s a very difficult situation for all involved. Obviously a young man was shot and killed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. I’m also praying for the officer and the folks doing the investigation as they will need, I think, some of our support as well, so that we get a fair and timely investigation.”

State Sen. Jim Brewster, who also represents the area, could not be immediately reached for comment.

While Allegheny County’s representatives called for their colleagues to come together, Philadelphia’s Harris went a step further and called for a special session. Because the people killed by police are black and brown, he said, this issue isn’t considered a crisis: “If it was anybody else … in this commonwealth, it would be a crisis.”

Davis and Gainey told The Incline they believe this issue can attract bipartisan cooperation.

“Not every police officer is a bad police officer,” Davis said. “We want to make sure the policing system is more effective for the officers who are doing a good job and the communities that they serve. I think it’s a good, healthy opportunity to have a talk about how we can make improvements in our system.”

“For me it’s about who will come to the table to help us build a better community,” Gainey added. “I believe that [Republicans] will, my hope is that they will, but I don’t want to speak for them today. What I want them to do is show the commonwealth of Pennsylvania that they’re serious about building a better relationship.”