Updated 4:45 p.m.
Michael Rosfeld, the East Pittsburgh Police officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose II, gave inconsistent accounts to investigators about the June 19 traffic stop, police said today.
Rosfeld was charged today with a single count of criminal homicide and released on bond. He has been on administrative leave since the shooting.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. today called Rosfeld’s fatal shooting of Rose “an intentional act done recklessly and with no justification.”
In a wide-ranging press conference this morning, Zappala praised Rose’s family and stressed that the teen “did nothing in the furtherance” of a North Braddock drive-by that preceded his fatal encounter with Rosfeld, other than being in the same vehicle as the alleged shooter.
Zappala’s office said it strongly disagreed with Magisterial District Judge Regis C. Welsh’s decision to allow Rosfeld to be released on $250,000 bail.
“On the issue of bail, our office argued vigorously against the setting of bail citing both the Pennsylvania State Constitution and statute which indicates that persons charged with a crime that can result in life in prison are not entitled to bail,” DA spokesman Mike Manko said via email. “We believe the Magisterial District Judge’s ruling on bail was improper but we do not plan on contesting it at this time.”
President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court modified Rosfeld’s bail later today to include electronic home monitoring while he is out on bail, Manko said.
Manko said his office approached Manning after learning there “may have been a jurisdictional issue with the way that bond was set on the defendant this morning.”
Rosfeld turned himself in around 6:30 a.m. today, his attorney Patrick Thomassey told WPXI.
“We’re just going to trust that this is going to work. We’re going to go through the process and see what happens,” Thomassey said, adding that his client’s mood is improving as information comes out, but declined to comment on their conversations.
Rosfeld’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 6; read his docket here. A message left for Thomassey by The Incline was not immediately returned.
S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing the Rose family, told The Incline that the Rose family is approaching the charges with “guarded optimism.”
“This is an important first step, but it is very early first step,” he said, adding, “The family is holding out for a conviction with proper sentencing.”
In his press conference today, Zappala said he believes the evidence in this case is strong enough to support a first-degree murder conviction against Rosfeld, but a jury will ultimately decide whether to convict the officer.
In explaining the decision to charge Rosfeld, Zappala pointed to Rosfeld’s “inconsistent” statements and Rosfeld’s admission that “at no time was a weapon in play.”
“Rosfeld specifically said he didn’t see a weapon,” Zappala said. “What he initially claimed was inconsistent with witness statements.”
Zappala said Rosfeld was remorseful about the shooting but, the DA believes, ultimately culpable.
“You have to go in with apprehension, but unless you see a threat, it’s unlawful to take a life,” Zappala said. “You can’t take someone’s life under these circumstances.”
Merritt says he is running a parallel investigation and is still considering asking the Department of Justice to investigate.
Today’s announcement follows a week of protest and outrage over Rose’s shooting death, which was captured on cellphone video that has been viewed around the world, and repeated calls from public officials and activists for charges to be brought against Rosfeld.
Charges in officer-involved shootings are rare. Convictions are even rarer.
According to Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, between 2005 and April 2017, 80 officers were arrested on murder or manslaughter charges for on-duty shootings. Of them, only 35 percent were convicted, while the rest were pending or not convicted.
Reports indicated that Rosfeld had been sworn in as an East Pittsburgh police officer just hours before he fatally shot Rose. He had worked for the department for three weeks prior to that and other area departments for seven years, including Oakmont, Harmar and University of Pittsburgh.
The Post-Gazette reported that Rosfeld left his job at the University of Pittsburgh after authorities discovered “discrepancies between the officer’s sworn statement and evidence in an arrest.”
Zappala said all of Rosfeld’s personnel files are in the hands of investigators but wouldn’t be publicly discussed at this time. “We’re aware of his background,” Zappala said.
The public outrage around this case has also prompted calls for Zappala’s removal, not just from this investigation but from office, with critics arguing that he’s been too soft in cases of officer-involved shootings.
Asked if the pressure helped bring about charges in this case, Zappala said, “No, sir. I’ve been doing this a long time.”
He said he’s brought charges in all three cases of individuals being shot in the back by police during his tenure.
“This is the third time we had this particular fact scenario during my tenure, and we filed charges the first two times and this time as well,” he said.
According to the criminal complaint
The following narrative was described in a criminal complaint against Rosfeld filed by Allegheny County District Attorney’s office detectives, unless otherwise indicated. You can read the full complaint here:
A shooting in North Braddock at 8:27 p.m.
East Pittsburgh police responded at 8:27 p.m. June 19 to North Braddock to assist police there following a report of a passenger shooting out of a vehicle at people on Jones Avenue. One person was treated for a “grazing gunshot wound to the abdomen.”
Police said they knew the intersection of Baldridge and Jones avenues had video surveillance cameras, and investigators found “nine spent .40 caliber cartridge casings along the path driven by the suspect vehicle. They also collected four spent .45 caliber cartridge casings” near where the injured person was standing with another person wearing a red shirt that he said he did not know.
An updated police description of the vehicle involved in the shooting called it a light gold Chevrolet Cruze with tinted windows.
Surveillance footage showed “a black male wearing a dark shirt” firing a handgun from a rear, rolled-down window in the Cruze at the man wearing the red shirt, who returned fire.
The county identified the shooter as 17-year-old Zaijuan Hester. Zappala said today that police are still looking for the man in the red shirt.
Hester was arrested Monday on an unrelated charge, WTAE reported, and now faces charges including aggravated assault and attempted homicide. Per county spokesperson Amie Downs, Hester is in custody but has yet to be formally arrested on these charges. Read his docket sheet here and the criminal complaint filed against Hester here.
“An officer-involved shooting in East Pittsburgh”
While county detectives were in North Braddock, a police radio broadcast said there had been “an officer-involved shooting in East Pittsburgh.”
The North Braddock and East Pittsburgh shootings were 1.5 miles apart. “It takes five minutes and thirty-one seconds, driving at the speed limit to travel between the two scenes,” per police.
Investigators there found Rosfeld’s police vehicle parked behind the Cruze, where the Chevy had been pulled over on Grandview Avenue at Christina Avenue.
The Cruze’s back window was shattered. “There was a bullet hole in the trunk to the right of the license plate and a bullet hole in the front passenger side door,” the affidavit adds.
What the driver said happened
Police took the driver to Allegheny County Police headquarters for an interview, where the driver, who police have not named, explained that he owns the Chevrolet Cruze.
Zappala today described the driver as an “Uber or jitney driver,” adding, “he’s been very forthcoming.”
The driver told police he worked during the day, then stopped by a tattoo parlor on his way home. It wasn’t open, so he headed home. Later, he drove into the Hawkins Village housing complex, where he bumped into two people asking for a ride to Grandview Avenue.
He knew the one person as “Javon” (who he would later identify as Rose after seeing a photo), and the second, “he knew only by sight,” the criminal complaint states. He agreed to drive them.
“Javon,” described as wearing a light-colored shirt, got into the passenger seat. The other male, described as wearing a black shirt, sat in the rear passenger seat.
As they drove to East Pittsburgh, they passed a market in North Braddock. The driver told police that he “heard the male in the rear seat ask, ‘Is that him?’” Then, he “heard gunfire, which he believed came from inside his vehicle.”
The driver drove away toward East Pittsburgh. As they arrived in East Pittsburgh, the driver noticed a police vehicle with lights on behind him, and he stopped the Cruze. The driver heard the officer command him to turn off the vehicle, throw the keys from the car, get out of the car, and lay on the ground. He complied.
While on the ground, the driver told police “he then heard the officer giving commands to the passengers.”
“From where he was lying, he could only see the passengers’ feet as they exited the car,” the driver told police. “(He) saw their feet turn to run, and then heard several gunshots. He went on to say he stayed on the ground until he was handcuffed and put in a police car.”
Detectives showed the driver a picture of Rose. “He positively identified that photo as the person he knew as “Javon,” who occupied the front passenger seat of his car,” per the criminal complaint.
“Detectives were also able to determine that the front seat passenger did not fire a weapon, as the front passenger window remained closed throughout the incident” in North Braddock, according to the affidavit.
The driver agreed to a gunshot residue test of his hands and said he didn’t have any firearms in the car, though police found two firearms in the vehicle:
- A 9mm Glock model 26 pistol under the front portion of the front passenger seat. That firearm was loaded with a 17-round-capacity magazine, which contained 16 rounds. The chamber of the weapon was empty. It had been reported lost in Monroeville that same day.
- A .40 caliber Glock model 22 pistol with an extended magazine under the rear portion of the front passenger seat. There was a live round in the chamber and the extended magazine had 18 live rounds in it. The magazine was not loaded to capacity. It has been reported stolen in Lower Burrell, Pa. in 2016.
Detectives submitted both firearms to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Crime Laboratory for examination. They also submitted Rosfeld’s 9mm pistol for testing.
The .40 caliber weapon under the seat was later determined to be the one used in the North Braddock drive-by, and the 9mm was not fired in that incident, Zappala said this morning. The 9mm was closest to Rose, while the .40 caliber used in the shooting was closest to where the back passenger would have been.
“The 9mm was never discharged,” Zappala explained.
Zappala said neither Rose nor Hester had the weapons when they ran from the traffic stop, when Rosfeld opened fire.
“There’s no weapon present that would have created a risk to Officer Rosfeld,” Zappala said. “Based on that evidence, I find Rosfeld’s actions to be intentional and that he was not acting to prevent death or serious bodily injury and my opinion is not entitled to justification charges. You have to possess a weapon and neither of these young men did.”
What the medical examiner’s report showed
Rose was found about 46 feet east of the Cruze, in an area described as “a side yard situated between the structure that is the East Pittsburgh senior citizen center” at 710 Grandview Ave.
An Allegheny County homicide detective responded to UMPC McKeesport on the night of the shooting, where Rose was pronounced dead at 9:19 p.m.
Hospital staff turned over the clothing and belongings that arrived at the hospital with Rose: A light gray T-shirt and an “empty 9mm Glock magazine, reportedly recovered from the victim’s right front pocket.” That magazine fit the Glock found under the front passenger seat.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office performed an autopsy on Rose and ruled that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the trunk and the manner of death was homicide.
The autopsy report explained that the victim had been struck three times by bullets:
- One to the right side of Rose’s face exiting near the bridge of the nose
- A second to the inside of Rose’s right elbow exiting in the mid-portion of the outside of his right upper arm
- A third — fatal — bullet entered his mid-back to the right of his spine and struck Rose’s lung and heart
A 9mm bullet was recovered in the chest cavity. Scientists from the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the 9mm bullet was discharged from Rosfeld’s pistol.
What witnesses said and what their video showed
At the scene, police found out about a Facebook video showing the traffic stop. The person who filmed the video refused to speak with investigators, refused to share a copy of the video and has not spoken with detectives. You can watch the video here.
Zappala said today that authorities are seeking an original copy of that bystander video, as investigators want to enhance the footage.
In an interview with ABC News, the woman who captured Rose’s shooting on cellphone video said she heard no verbal commands or warnings from Rosfeld before the shots were fired. Soon after, she said, “I looked at the officer. And his head was down. He had his hands over his head. The way he looked, I knew, I could tell that he knew that he messed up.”
Rosfeld told WTAE-TV on Thursday that he hadn’t watched the video and was previously unaware that it existed.
Using the video on social media, police wrote in the criminal complaint that they determined:
- Two people fled from the passenger side of the Cruze.
- The front seat passenger was wearing a light-colored shirt, consistent with the gray shirt recovered from Rose. The front seat passenger, wearing the gray shirt, emerged from the vehicle and began to flee toward the grassy area next to the Senior Citizen center. A single gunshot can be heard on the video, followed by two more gunshots in quick succession.
- As that is happening, the rear seat passenger, wearing a dark-colored shirt, fled in the same direction.
Zappala said a second bystander video exists but “doesn’t add much to the evidence in this case.”
According to the criminal complaint, another man traveling north on Grandview Avenue saw the traffic stop and realized “it was not a normal traffic stop,” so he “started recording the stop on his cellphone” and turned that video over to investigators. His video shows the driver of the Cruze on the ground when Rosfeld fired his gun. Nobody else can be seen exiting the driver’s side of the car.
Investigators also spoke with other witnesses there.
One witness was sitting on their front porch when they watched police pull over the Cruze. The witness — court documents do not give a gender or name — said the officer got out of his SUV and pointed his gun at the Chevy. The witness heard the officer give the driver orders to “get out of the car and put his hands up.” The driver complied before being handcuffed on the ground, the witness believed. The witness said the officer, now known to be Rosfeld, then ordered the passengers out of the vehicle. The witness said “they immediately fled the car towards Route 30,” at which point the witness saw and heard the officer fire at the two males as they ran through the witness’ yard. Realizing one of the men was injured in the yard, the witness went inside and watched from a window. “He/she stated he/she could clearly see that neither male had anything in his hands” as they were running, the affidavit says of the witness.
Another witness said they were smoking a cigarette on their porch when they noticed the traffic stop and began paying closer attention after realizing the officer’s gun was drawn. The witness said a passenger emerged from the vehicle and began to put his hands on the roof of the car, “but then immediately turned and ran away from the officer into the yard next to the Senior Citizen center.” The witness said the officer fired three times at the person as he ran away, the fleeing male’s hands were empty, and the officer shot at him as he was running away.
What Rosfeld told county police
County police interviewed Rosfeld on Friday, June 22 with his attorney present. Here’s what Rosfeld said:
Rosfeld was working the 3-11 p.m. shift on June 19 with three other officers. It’s not normal to have that many officers working a shift, but “he and two others were officially being sworn in as East Pittsburgh Officers that evening.”
He heard a call for shots fired in North Braddock and heard the description of the vehicle involved. While on patrol, he saw a car fitting that description, and he pulled in behind it, “but there was another vehicle between his vehicle and the suspect vehicle.” He noticed that the rear windshield had gunshot damage.
The other car moved, and Rosfeld got directly behind the suspect vehicle, at which point he called in the plate of the vehicle to police dispatch. Rosfeld realized the car could have been involved in the North Braddock shooting, and so he began a traffic stop by turning on the emergency lights and hitting the siren several times.
The car pulled over near the East Pittsburgh Senior Center.
Rosfeld said he believed there were three people in the car — a driver, a front seat passenger, and a back seat passenger — but said he couldn’t see clearly into the car “to know where the occupants’ hands were.”
In this morning’s press conference, Zappala said Rosfeld should have waited for backup to arrive before removing the occupants from the vehicle.
On the police radio, he said he was conducting a felony traffic stop.
Rosfeld got out of the car, drew his weapon, and gave commands to the driver — “he did this in accordance with what he thought to be ‘felony traffic stop’ protocol,” according to the affidavit.
Because he didn’t know how far away back-up officers were, he planned to get everybody out of the car and put them on the ground until other officers arrived. He ordered the driver out and to the ground.
“Before he could turn his attention to the other occupants, the front seat passenger exited the vehicle. He said this person turned his hand toward Officer Rosfeld and he, Officer Rosfeld, saw something dark that he perceived as a gun. This observation caused him to step from behind the cover of his car door to acquire a better view. He then fired his weapon. At the same time, a second person fled the vehicle from the passenger side,” the affidavit states.
Once Rosfeld finished his statement, detectives asked him to go over it once more.
“During that rendition, Rosfeld told the detectives that he did not see a gun when the passenger emerged and ran. When confronted with this inconsistency, Rosfeld stated he saw something in the passenger’s hand but was not sure what it was. In addition, Officer Rosfeld stated that he was not certain if the individual who had his arm pointed at him was still pointing at him when he fired the shots,” police wrote.