Rosfeld acquittal could deter prosecutors from bringing similar cases, expert says |

Rosfeld acquittal could deter prosecutors from bringing similar cases, expert says

Megan Guza | Tribune-Review
Demonstrators gather at a rally at Freedom Corner in the Hill District on Saturday, March 23, 2019, a day after the not guilty verdict in the homicide trial of former East Pittsburgh Police officer Michael Rosfeld.
Philip Stinson, Bowling Green State University criminology professor.
Associated Press
In this March 12, 2019 file photo, former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld, charged with homicide in the shooting death of Antwon Rose II, walks to the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg, Pa. On the fourth day of the trial in Pittsburgh, Friday March 22, 2019, Rosfeld was acquitted of all counts in the death of Rose.

A Bowling Green State University criminology professor who is a leading researcher on police shootings said his greatest fear is the chilling effect Michael Rosfeld’s acquittal could have on prosecutors facing similar cases in the future.

Philip Stinson woke up Saturday thinking about the not-guilty verdict in the former East Pittsburgh police officer’s case.

Rosfeld shot and killed 17-year-old Antwon Rose II on June 19.

“My concern is that prosecutors across the country are going to become more and more reluctant to bring charges in these types of cases,” Stinson, a former police officer and attorney, told the Tribune-Review.

Rosfeld’s acquittal joins the growing list of police officers charged but not convicted.

Since 2005, prosecutors have sought convictions for 98 officers in the United States. About 20 percent are pending, according to data collected by Stinson. Of those that have gone to trial, 35 officers, or 45 percent, have been found guilty. More than 40, or 55 percent, of the cases ended in an acquittal.

On average, about two officers are convicted each year. The greatest number of convictions came in 2015, the year following the shooting death of Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old African-American in Ferguson, Mo. Brown, like Rose, was unarmed, and his death ignited unrest and “Hands up, don’t shoot” protests.

“This is a very sad reality,” Tim Stevens, chairman of Black Political Empowerment Project, or B-PEP, said. “These statistics are beyond outrageous.”

Of the four Pennsylvania officers charged with crimes, two – Rosfeld and Hummelstown police Officer Lisa Mearkle in 2015 – were acquitted. The other two cases are still awaiting trial.

Every year since 2005, about 900 to 1,000 people have been shot and killed by police, Stinson said.

The fact so few officers are charged, and even fewer convicted, underscores how difficult these cases are, Stinson said.

“The job of prosecutors is justice,” Stinson said. “The problem is, prosecutors often think about winning cases.”

Nicole C. Brambila is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Nicole at 724-226-7704, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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