Rosfeld: ‘I thought one of the suspects was pointing a gun at me’
Michael Rosfeld described with tears in his eyes a dying Antwon Rose II.
The 17-year-old was trying to breathe, Rosfeld told jurors Thursday.
“I was upset, shocked,” Rosfeld testified. “I could see the wound on his face.”
Rosfeld, a former East Pittsburgh police officer on trial for homicide, took the stand in his own defense during the third day of his trial. He shot and killed Rose on June 19 after the teen and Zaijuan Hester fled from a car Rosfeld had stopped, thinking it matched the description of one suspected in a drive-by shooting earlier that evening.
As Rosfeld was sworn in to testify, Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, left the courtroom.
Rosfeld said that when the teens ran, he thought he saw one of them — he wasn’t sure which one — gesture threateningly toward him with what he thought might be a handgun. Asked to demonstrate the gesture, Rosfeld extended his arm out at shoulder height.
“Why did you fire?” defense attorney Patrick Thomassey asked Rosfeld.
“Because I thought one of the suspects was pointing a gun at me,” Rosfeld replied.
Upon seeing the gesture and believing he saw a handgun, Rosfeld aimed his pistol at the teen, he testified. He told Chief Trial Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons during cross-examination that he could no longer tell if the person he thought was threatening continued to gesture after he took aim because his gun and hands blocked his sight.
Fitzsimmons pressed Rosfeld on whether he actually saw a weapon.
“Did you see anyone in that car in possession of a weapon?” Fitzsimmons asked. “Yes or no.”
Rosfeld said no.
He said he shot Rose “to protect myself and the community.”
S. Lee Merritt, an attorney for Rose’s family, said after court wrapped up Thursday that Rosfeld did not describe a justification for shooting.
“What he failed to articulate was any justification, or specifically a threat, to his life or to the community that would warrant the use of deadly force,” Merritt said. “He imagined a threat.”
Rosfeld testified for about 90 minutes. He was the first witness called by Thomassey after the prosecution rested its case.
During cross-examination, Rosfeld asked Fitzsimmons to repeat many of his questions. He testified that he thought the car he pulled over matched the description of the one suspected in the North Braddock drive-by even though the wheels didn’t match and he hadn’t confirmed whether there was damage to the car from gunshots.
Rosfeld said he couldn’t recall whether he ordered the passengers to stay in the car. Fitzsimmons referred him to his interview with detectives in which he said he didn’t.
Clifford Jobe, a veteran state police officer who also taught in the state police academy for 22 years, testified as a use-of-force expert for the defense. Jobe, who runs a private consulting firm, said that in his expert opinion, Rosfeld did nothing wrong.
He said Rosfeld had to consider the “totality of circumstances,” including the number of suspects, his belief they were armed, his belief they had just committed a violent felony and his perception of danger.
“I can’t fault Officer Rosfeld for anything wrong,” Jobe said.
Jobe told Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Fodi during cross-examination that he could make between $10,000 and $15,000 for his work on this case. Pressed by Fodi, Jobe said that in the 41 cases he listed on his resume, he has never testified against a police officer.
Jobe agreed with Fodi that there was no way for Rosfeld to know whether the Chevrolet Cruze was involved in the shooting. Rosfeld couldn’t know for certain that he was apprehending the drive-by shooters and couldn’t know with certainty there were weapons in the car, Jobe said.
The vehicle was not speeding and pulled over when Rosfeld flashed his lights and chirped his siren, Jobe said, agreeing with questions from Fodi. The passengers in the car did not fire any weapons during the stop, and the driver complied with all the commands, Jobe said.
He said he never interviewed Rosfeld, and he relied on Rosfeld’s testimony. If Rosfeld didn’t actually see the gesture and really didn’t feel threaten, Jobe conceded, Rosfeld’s actions would not have been in line with his training.