By Matt Stevens, Melissa Gomez and Christina Caron
The fatal shooting this week by an East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, police officer of an unarmed teenager who was attempting to flee prompted more protests Thursday and calls for answers from law enforcement officials.
The teenager, Antwon Rose II, 17, was a passenger in a car that had been pulled over because it matched the description of a vehicle that had fled an earlier shooting in which a 22-year-old man was wounded, the Allegheny County Police Department said in a statement.
A video that recorded the fatal shooting Tuesday night and was posted on Facebook shows two people running from police vehicles as three shots are fired. One of the people, later identified as Antwon, appears to fall to the ground.
Authorities confirmed Thursday that Antwon was struck three times but did not specify where.
“Why are they shooting?” the woman recording the video says. “All they did was run and they’re shooting at them!”
The Allegheny County Police Department, which is investigating the encounter, said two firearms were found on the floor of the car. When asked if the 17-year-old was found with a weapon on him, Coleman McDonough, the department’s superintendent, said he was not.
On Thursday, Mike Manko, a spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney’s office, confirmed reports that Antwon, while unarmed, had an empty clip of a handgun in his pants pocket at the time he was shot.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday quoted Mayor Louis Payne of East Pittsburgh – a borough in Allegheny County – as saying that the officer who shot Antwon was hired in mid-May and had been formally sworn in hours before the shooting. Payne told Action News 4 on Thursday that he believed the shooting was the first time in at least 20 years that an East Pittsburgh officer had opened fire.
In a statements Thursday, authorities identified the East Pittsburgh officer who fired as Michael H. Rosfeld.
Attempts to reach Rosfeld, 30, by phone were unsuccessful. The law firm of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin confirmed it was representing the officer, but a lawyer for the firm did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday night.
Officials said Rosfeld had worked for the Oakmont Borough Police Department, which is about 15 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, as a part-time patrol officer from 2011 to 2013. Jason Domaratz, the police chief in Harmar Township, said Rosfeld joined the Harmar Township Police Department, just across the Allegheny River, in February 2012 as a part-time patrol officer. Rosfeld stayed there for less than a year before he accepted a full-time position with the University of Pittsburgh’s Police Department, Domaratz said.
Domaratz said it was common for officers to apply to both the Harmar Township and Oakmont Borough departments because of their proximity to each another and to change jobs frequently while they try to secure a full-time position with benefits.
“I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary,” Domaratz said Thursday, adding that the officer did not get in trouble while he was part of his department and never fired his weapon.
Joseph Miksch, a University of Pittsburgh spokesman, said Rosfeld was employed as a full-time police officer at the university from October 2012 to Jan. 18 of this year. Citing confidential personnel records, he said he could not comment on the officer’s performance or say why he left the department.
In a statement on Wednesday night, S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing Antwon’s family, said: “We know very little about the circumstances surrounding his death at this early stage. We must emphasize that rumors of him being involved in a separate shooting are unsubstantiated. We know that he was not armed at the time he was shot down, that he posed no immediate threat to anyone, and that, significantly, the driver of the vehicle he occupied was released from police custody.”
On Wednesday evening, dozens of people gathered outside the East Pittsburgh Police Department to protest the black teenager’s death. “No justice, no peace!” they chanted. Some carried signs that said, “Justice4Antwon” and “#BlackLivesMatter.” Then on Thursday, hundreds of people rallied outside of the Allegheny County Courthouse; later Thursday evening, protesters poured onto Interstate 376, blocking it.
Those who knew Antwon described him as bright, lively and funny. He was a senior at Woodland Hills High School who was expected to graduate at the end of the year, the superintendent, Al Johnson, said in an interview Wednesday.
“He was an excellent student,” Johnson said, adding that Antwon was taking Advanced Placement classes.
Kim Ransom, the owner of the Pittsburgh Gymnastics Club, where Antwon worked for about a year, recalled the sweltering day in 2015 that he interviewed to work at the club as an instructor.
“He brought his typed-up resume and he was wearing a full three-piece suit with his shiny shoes and he was sweating profusely,” she said.
“I just thought it was very cute. I think he was 14 at the time,” she continued. “Someone in his life must have been guiding him in the right direction.”
He got the job and began coaching children in an after-school program and other classes.
“Everybody loved him here,” she said. “He was very mature.”
The traffic stop on Tuesday that led to the deadly shooting occurred after multiple 911 calls earlier in the night reported a shooting in North Braddock, Pennsylvania, that had wounded a 22-year-old man in the abdomen, police said. He was treated at a trauma center and later released.
Investigators said a gunman in a passing vehicle had fired nine .40-caliber rounds at the 22-year-old, who returned fire.
The 911 callers described a vehicle they saw fleeing the scene, police said, and Rosfeld saw a similar vehicle – a silver Chevrolet Cruze that appeared to have ballistics damage to its rear window.
“I’m very confident that that was the vehicle involved in the shooting,” McDonough said.
Rosfeld stopped the car at 8:40 p.m. and took the driver into custody, authorities said.
“While he was putting the driver into handcuffs, two other occupants ran from the car,” the Allegheny County police said. Rosfeld started shooting, striking the 17-year-old, department officials said.
The 17-year-old was taken to UPMC McKeesport hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:19 p.m., McDonough said.
The driver of the car was later released after being interviewed.
“At the time we did not feel that charging was called for,” McDonough said.
The police are still searching for the second person who ran from the officers. McDonough asked that he turn himself in “so that he can give a comprehensive description of what occurred this evening,” the police statement said.
Rosfeld has been placed on administrative leave, officials added.