Jury foreman in Rosfeld trial says ex-cop ‘has a right to do what he did’
Jesse Rawls Sr. believes Antwon Rose II would be alive today had he not run from police.
“When someone jumps out of a car that you know was just involved in a drive-by shooting, would you assume that they’re not armed?” said Rawls, the foreman of the jury from Dauphin County that acquitted former East Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Rosfeld. “All those things came into play.”
Rawls, 72, said Rosfeld’s homicide trial was not a complex case. In a phone interview Monday with the Tribune-Review, he said acquitting Rosfeld was the right decision based on the evidence.
A judge ruled to select a jury from outside of Allegheny County because of intense pretrial publicity.
Rawls said Rosfeld was justified in shooting Rose, 17, based largely on Rose’s involvement in a drive-by shooting earlier that evening. He said Rosfeld made a felony traffic stop and tried to gain control of the situation with three people in the car.
“When there’s a felony stop, that’s high alert,” Rawls said. “You have to stop the person. We came up with the fact that he (Rosfeld) has a right to do what he did.”
Rawls, one of three black people on the jury, said some jurors were concerned that Rose was unarmed. He countered that Rosfeld would not have known that at the time of the June 19 traffic stop.
Rawls said the Pennsylvania law that police officers are justified in using force when they believe it is necessary to prevent death or serious injury to themselves or others was a big factor in the jury’s decision. Rosfeld’s testimony also played a part in convincing the jury of his innocence.
“When he got on the stand and he talked, I could see that he was terribly upset,” Rawls said. “You have to follow the rule of the law. He said ‘I saw his (Rose’s) hand and I thought he had a gun. And I shot.’’’
Rawls said he believes that even an all-black jury would have come to the same conclusion as the mostly white jury did in this case.
“If they went in with the same thought process that I had, they would. If they went in with a clear mind and listened to the evidence and followed the guidelines, they would have,” he said.
The jury could have convicted Rosfeld of either first-degree murder, third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.
After the verdict was read Friday, many in the Pittsburgh community reacted angrily and protested in the streets. Rawls understands the reaction.
“Being an African-American and having young sons, I understand exactly,” he said. “ And you ask yourself all the time: ‘Why is it a white police officer is always shooting black boys?’ But that wasn’t the first incident that Antwon was involved in.”
Rawls said he has gotten feedback about the verdict from people he knows. Not all of it has been positive.
“A couple of my friends said: ‘Why didn’t you convict him?’” said Rawls. “I said: ‘I can’t, I couldn’t’ and after I explained it to them they understood. And when I explained it to my son, he said he understood. He said ‘I would have done the same thing (Rosfeld) did.’”
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].