A white police officer was charged Wednesday with homicide in the death of an unarmed black teenager who was shot in the back while fleeing a traffic stop, a shooting that has fueled daily protests around Pittsburgh.
Prosecutors cited East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld’s inconsistent statements about whether he thought he saw a gun in the hand of 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr.
The officer first told investigators that Rose turned his hand toward the officer when he ran from the car and Rosfeld “saw something dark he perceived as a gun,” according to the criminal complaint.
During a second recap of last week’s shooting, Rosfeld told investigators he did not see a gun and was not sure whether Rose’s arm was pointed at him when he fired.
The 30-year-old officer had been sworn in just hours before the June 19 shooting in the small borough of East Pittsburgh after working at the Police Department for a couple of weeks. After being charged, he surrendered and was released on $250,000 bond.
Criminal homicide is a broad category that includes manslaughter and murder. Pennsylvania prosecutors typically specify what subsection of homicide they will pursue later in the case.
Allegheny County Dist. Atty. Stephen Zappala said his office planned to ask a jury to consider the highest charge of first-degree murder. He argued against releasing Rosfeld on bail.
“You do not shoot someone in the back if they are not a threat to you,” Zappala said.
The car Rose was in had been stopped on suspicion of involvement in a drive-by shooting. But investigators determined that Rose had done nothing “except be in the car,” Zappala said.
Zappala said witnesses described Rose as showing his hands before the shooting, emphasizing that he did not have a weapon.
Asked by reporters whether he saw anything in Rosfeld’s employment records that raised concerns, Zappala said yes but declined to elaborate.
Rosfeld’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, said little as he left court but previously told CBS News that the officer was depressed.
He “feels bad about what happened, and it was his first time ever firing his weapon as a police officer,” Thomassey said.
At a news conference held by the family’s legal team, attorney Fred Rabner questioned why the officer was released without any cash or collateral for his bond.
Another family attorney, Lee Merritt, said the biggest “moment of relief” for relatives was hearing investigators say they knew Rose was not involved in the drive-by shooting.
“If he had survived that incident, as he should have, he wouldn’t have been charged. He had done nothing wrong,” Merritt said.
During the news conference, Rose’s mother, father, grandmother and sister huddled behind a podium wearing shirts calling for justice. Rose’s mother struggled to contain tears as her daughter clasped her tightly.
Her son was shot three times — in the right side of his face, in the elbow and in the back by a bullet that struck his lung and heart, which was the fatal wound, authorities said.
3:45 p.m.: This story was updated with additional details and reaction.
This article was originally published at 6:50 a.m.