Testimony concludes on Day 2 of Rosfeld trial; prosecution could rest Thursday
The homicide trial of former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld is continuing Wednesday. Proceedings got underway around 9 a.m. in Room 313 of the Allegheny County Courthouse.
Rosfeld is accused of shooting Antwon Rose II three times as he ran from a June 19 traffic stop in East Pittsburgh.
Common Pleas Judge Alexander Bicket is presiding over Rosfeld’s trial. Chief Trial Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons and Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Fodi are prosecuting the case. Patrick Thomassey is representing Rosfeld.
Witnesses who have testified so far Wednesday are:
- Peyton Deri, who witnessed the shooting and took footage from his car as he took a detour through East Pittsburgh
- John Leach, a neighbor on Grandview Avenue who witnessed the shooting
- Gregory Medley, a neighbor on Franklin Avenue who witnessed the shooting
- Louis Payne, Mayor of East Pittsburgh who was in the building next door to the shooting
- Patrick Shattuck, a community developer who was also in the building next door
- Brian Neff, a former police officer in East Pittsburgh who was sworn in the same time as Rosfeld
- Scott Lowden, a 21-year veteran of the East McKeesport police force
- Charles Rozzo, an officer with the Allegheny County Housing Authority police
- Anthony Perry, an Allegheny County Police detective who is the lead investigator on the case
- Dennis Barbusio, a Turtle Creek police officer who responded to East Pittsburgh to search for a fleeing suspect
- Brian Wilkesmore, an Allegheny County Police officer at the Wilmerding substation who also responded to search for a fleeing suspect
- Daniel Wolfe, a scientist with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office
The prosecution finished Wednesday with testimony from three witnesses who all discussed evidence collected from and around the East Pittsburgh shooting scene.
Dennis Barbusio, an officer with the Turtle Creek Borough police department, said he did not respond to the North Braddock drive-by shooting but did attempt to respond to the East Pittsburgh scene on Grandview Avenue.
He said he was aware that someone fled from Grandview Avenue. He changed course when he heard that an officer needed assistance searching in the area of Sycamore Street, which was near his location on Linden Avenue.
On the way, he said he spotted a young, black man who appeared to be shirtless standing near a municipal building on Linden Avenue.
Barbusio said that he thought that this could have been the person they were pursuing, so he tried to locate him.
Brian Wilkesmore, an officer with the Allegheny County Police Department based in Wilmerding, testified next. He described his role in collecting evidence found near the same municipal building on Linden Avenue.
Wilkesmore did not respond to the North Braddock scene but was attempting to respond to the East Pittsburgh scene, he said.
On the way there, he said he heard calls that an officer may have spotted a suspect, so he stopped to help that officer.
Wilkesmore checked the area around the Linden Avenue municipal building and found a dark-colored article of clothing. He and other officers regarded as potential evidence at the time and took care to preserve it until it could be collected by medical examiner office staff.
Fitzsimmons interrupted testimony to present several stipulations. Stipulations are items agreed upon by attorneys on both sides as proven facts. Bicket instructed the jury to consider them as evidence. They included that both Rose and backseat passenger Zaijuan Hester, 18, contributed DNA to guns found in the car.
He also said Hester’s DNA was found on the shirt found near the municipal building described in Wilkesmore’s testimony.
Treyvon Robertson, the driver of the car, did not contribute any DNA to those items, Fitzsimmons said.
Wednesday’s testimony concluded with Daniel Wolfe, a scientist with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner Office forensic lab.
Wolfe discussed at length items collected from the car that Rose and Hester fled from, including bullet fragments, a grey sweatshirt and a cellphone. He also discussed bullet holes and finger and palm prints that were documented on the interior and exterior of the vehicle.
Wolfe was also responsible for analyzing gunshot residue samples — referred to as “stubs” — collected from Rose and Robertson, he said.
“If gunshot residue is found, it does not mean the person fired a gun,” Wolfe said, explaining that the presence of gunshot residue or particles found in residue could indicate that a person fired a gun, was near a gun when it was fired or that he came into contact with residue.
“That’s true regardless of the amount or location,” he said of gunshot residue.
His analysis of stubs from Rose and Robertson showed that both had combinations of particles that make up gunshot residue on their hands, he said.
When asked if that meant Rose fired a gun, Wolfe said, “Not necessarily, no.”
Detective Anthony Perry went over more than 60 photos of the Chevy Cruze, the area surrounding it, shell casings on the ground from Rosfeld’s weapon and the location of the vehicles involved.
He also testified that a 9mm Glock 26 was found under the front side of the front passenger seat. He said it was not visible unless you were looking for it.
“If you looked in the front passenger compartment, you could not see the firearm,” Perry said.
He said it had no live rounds in it and had an extended magazine that held 16 rounds instead of the normal 10. Rose’s DNA was found on it.
A .40-caliber Glock 22 was found under the back portion of the front passenger seat, Perry said, as though someone sitting in the backseat had stuffed it under the seat in front of them.
That firearm had a live round in the chamber and an extended 29-round magazine rather than the normal 17-round capacity.
The DNA of Hester was found on that firearm. Hester pleaded guilty this month to three counts of aggravated assault and four firearms charges in connection with the drive-by shooting in North Braddock that preceded the traffic stop in East Pittsburgh.
Perry said an empty magazine – the term used by attorneys – was found in Rose’s pants pocket.
Prosecutors later played nearly 12 minutes of radio calls from over the course of the evening.
Testimony wrapped up on the second day of the Rosfeld trial.
— Jamie Martines (@Jamie_Martines) March 20, 2019
The prosecution could rest its case Thursday.
Court has recessed until 9am. The Comminwealth has three or four more witnesses. They expect the rest tomorrow.
— Megan Guza (@meganguzaTrib) March 20, 2019
Charles Rozzo, an officer with the Allegheny County Housing Authority police, said he and his partner responded first to the North Braddock scene before they went to the East Pittsburgh shooting scene for a “related incident.”
Rozzo testified that he and his partner approached Rosfeld and took him to their vehicle and let him sit in the front passenger seat.
“He was clearly upset,” Rozzo said of Rosfeld.
They took control of his side arm and a long arm. Those were later passed on to East Pittsburgh Police Chief Lori Payne.
On cross examination, Rozzo told Thomassey that Rosfeld asked, “How’s he doing?” several times in reference to the teenager he shot. He said Rosfeld also asked him to call his wife for him.
Rozzo testified that Rosfeld also asked, “Did you see the gun?”
“So he was concerned,” Thomassey said of Rosfeld’s demeanor.
No testimony thus far has indicated that Rosfeld attempted to render aid to Rose.
The first witness called after lunch Wednesday was Brian Neff, a former police officer in East Pittsburgh who was sworn in the same time as Rosfeld.
Neff testified that he was in the East Pittsburgh police station with Rosfeld and other officers when they heard over the radio about a drive-by shooting in North Braddock. All of the officers responded, but Neff returned to the station to retrieve his cellphone to use as a GPS after getting lost on the way to the North Braddock scene, he said.
After grabbing his phone, Neff said that he heard Rosfeld asking for confirmation of the description of the vehicle involved in the drive-by shooting over the radio and calling out a traffic stop. Neff then started making his way up to Grandview Avenue in East Pittsburgh.
“In the distance, I did witness Officer Rosfeld’s vehicle stopped behind another vehicle,” Neff said, describing what he saw when he arrived on the scene.
Shortly after he pulled up, he saw individuals on the passenger’s side of the vehicle stopped by Rosfeld start to run, he said.
Neff said he could not see their hands and quickly lost sight of the individuals as they ran.
He thought he heard five to six shots that “seemed pretty rapid,” he said.
A few seconds after the shots were fired, he said he got out of his vehicle.
“As soon as I got out of the vehicle, I drew my firearm,” Neff said. He then approached Rosfeld, asking him where the individuals went.
Neff said he searched the right side of the nearby senior center — referred to throughout the day Wednesday as a community center — on Grandview Avenue. He then proceeded down steps but stopped short of a tunnel area between the senior center and other buildings.
“That’s where I assumed they were in,” Neff said, explaining that he then went back up to street level where he believed backup officers would be and did not proceed into the tunnel area alone.
Neff returned to the area to continue searching with another officer, he said.
“I found one of the males on the ground,” Neff said, adding that the individual was lying on his back.
He later learned that person was Antwon Rose II, he said.
“I just recall him trying to catch his breath, just moving his arms,” Neff said.
Rose appeared to have difficulty breathing, was not saying anything and was not trying to get up, Neff said.
Rose was repositioned — flipped over onto his stomach — when other officers patted Rose down for weapons and handcuffed him behind his back, Neff said.
“After he was handcuffed, I had left the scene,” Neff said, explaining that he then went through the tunnel area to reach Linden Avenue in order to continue searching for the other individual who fled the vehicle with Rose.
He did not return to the scene for a few hours and was later interviewed by county detectives, he said.
During cross-examination, Thomassey asked Neff about his training as a police officer, including whether a “three-shot burst,” firing a gun three times, is consistent with training.
Neff said it was not.
“There’s really no number of shots you’re supposed to,” Neff said.
Also among the first responders on scene that night was Scott Lowden, a 21-year veteran of the East McKeesport police force.
Lowden was on patrol in East McKeesport and started monitoring radio chatter earlier in the evening June 19 when he heard a call about a drive-by shooting in North Braddock.
Lowden started making his way to Grandview Avenue in East Pittsburgh after hearing that an officer may have stopped the vehicle involved in the North Braddock drive-by shooting, he said.
Upon arriving at the scene, Lowden said he immediately asked where the wounded person was.
“I immediately checked for signs of life, heart rate, breathing effort,” Lowden said.
He described a chaotic scene, but said that he did not recall anyone right around the body, which he found lying face-down.
Lowden said he uncuffed the individual and flipped him over, also repositioning the head and feet.
He checked for wounds and found no pulse and described the person “gasping for breath.”
At that point in the testimony, Thomassey objected, and the attorneys were asked to approach the judge.
Bicket then instructed jurors not to consider Lowden’s description of Rose’s breathing.
Fitzsimmons was allowed to ask Lowden about other aid he administered — Lowden said he administered CPR — and whether he stayed on scene to talk to detectives.
The jury heard from first responders to the shooting scene this afternoon.
This PM: First responders who were at the scene–Grandview Ave. in East Pgh–where the shooting occurred. Testimony so far: Brian Neff, former East Pgh officer; Scott Lowden, East McKeesport officer. Happening now: Charles Rozzo, Allegheny County Housing Authority police officer
— Jamie Martines (@Jamie_Martines) March 20, 2019
East Pittsburgh Mayor Louis Payne testified that he was attending a monthly council meeting the night of the shooting at the community center on Grandview Avenue.
Payne said that he recalled swearing in Michael Rosfeld and two other officers to the police department during the meeting, which started at about 7 p.m. on June 19. Rosfeld had been on the job there for about a week before being sworn in, Payne said.
The mayor recognized Rosfeld when he saw him later on the night of the shooting and was able to identify him again in the courtroom Wednesday.
That night, the officers left after the ceremony and council continued with other business.
Payne said that he saw much of the incident from inside the community center. First, he saw a vehicle pull up near the community center. It appeared to have bullet holes in the passenger’s side and a blown-out rear window, with shattered glass above the back seat.
A police vehicle arrived, and Payne said he saw Rosfeld get out and tell the occupants of the vehicle to “shut your engine off” about three times.
Payne said that Rosfeld had his gun drawn at the time. It was held out in front of him but not pointing in a specific direction, Payne said.
Payne said that he saw a man exit the driver’s side and comply with commands to get out of the car and get down on the ground. The man was then handcuffed by Rosfeld, he said.
At that point, Payne said that he figured everything was over. As he went back into the building, Payne said that he heard “maybe three” consecutive gunshots.
Payne and other council members later went back outside and saw police cars, officers and residents all over, Payne said.
He looked over to a grassy area at the side of the community building and saw “a gentleman laying on the ground with two to three officers around him,” he said.
The person appeared injured. Payne said he saw some blood, and officers appeared to be doing something to the person, who was laying face-down.
He could not see if the person was handcuffed and said that he looked away quickly.
At first, Payne said that he heard Rosfeld speak only two times during the incident: while giving commands for the occupants of the vehicle to exit, and while directing officers to search the area after he fired the shots.
When pressed by Fitzsimmons, Payne said that he remembered hearing Rosfeld make an additional comment later on.
Payne said that he remembered hearing Rosfeld say, “Why’d he do that? Why did he do that?”
During cross examination, Thomassey asked Payne if he remembered Rosfeld saying, “Why did he take that out of his pocket?”
Payne said that he did not hear that statement.
Patrick Shattuck, who works in community development, testified after Payne.
Shattuck was also at the borough meeting space that day. He testified that he walked outside after the meeting adjourned, and Payne joined him. He said they’d been talking for perhaps five minutes when a vehicle followed by a police cruiser pulled up.
He said the vehicle being pulled over stopped nearly right in front of them.
Shattuck said Payne looked at the Chevy Cruze and its broken back window and said, “That’s been shot out.”
He said he replied that it certainly looked like that.
Shattuck said that as soon as the cars pulled over, Rosfeld was out of the vehicle with his gun drawn, demanding the driver show his hands and throw the keys out the window.
He said Rosfeld’s tone was authoritative.
“Like you’d expect,” Thomassey said.
Shattuck said he looked at Payne and suggested they go inside.
“Something just didn’t feel right,” Shattuck said on the stand. “There was a tension.”
He said as Rosfeld held his weapon, he could see his hands shaking.
Later, when Shattuck was back in the community building, Rosfeld walked in and put his firearm on a table and sat down, he said.
He said he heard Rosfeld, who was crying, say without prompting, “Why did he do that? Why did he do that? Why did he take that out of his pocket?”
Soon after, another officer came inside and told Rosfeld, “You can’t be here.”
Shattuck said that Rosfeld walked to the door, past his firearm, then came back and got it before leaving the building.
Bicket recessed court for lunch about 12:30 p.m.
Gregory Medley, a 43-year-old resident of Franklin Street in East Pittsburgh, testified to witnessing part of the incident from the corner of Franklin and Grandview Avenue, about a block away from where the shooting happened.
Medley said he saw a “vehicle speeding with a police car in pursuit,” and later watched an officer issue orders to the passengers of the vehicle.
He said he couldn’t make out some of the words because they were muffled but heard the officer yelling for the occupants to exit the vehicle.
Medley said he saw the driver get out of the vehicle, after which the officer then gave commands to the passengers.
After seeing two passengers get out of the vehicle, Medley said, “They took off. Then I heard three gunshots.”
Medley said he could not see their hands, but one passenger was wearing a white shirt and looked like a young boy.
Medley said the officer who fired the shots took off running in pursuit of the passengers after shooting.
Like he has with other witnesses, Thomassey pressed Medley on how much he could see from his position.
John Leach, a resident of East Pittsburgh’s Grandview Avenue near where the shooting happened, testified that he was sitting on his porch about two houses down from the shooting scene when he caught sight of police lights reflecting in his truck.
He told jurors he got up from his seat and leaned over the brick railing of his porch to get a better look and saw Rosfeld standing behind the driver’s side door of his patrol vehicle with his gun drawn and pointed at a Chevy Cruze.
Leach testified that he believed the driver of the Cruze was out of the vehicle, as the driver’s door was open. He said he saw someone emerge from the front passenger door and pause a moment.
“His hands came up over the door just a little bit, and then he ran,” Leach said.
He said he could only see his right hand, but it looked for a moment that the front passenger was going to put his hands on top of the car but instead turned and ran. He testified that he saw the backseat passenger run from the driver’s side of the car, contradicting video evidence. Then, Leach said, he heard shots.
“Immediately, it was like as soon as he turned to run the shots went out,” he said.
Leach said he walked to the scene and got 4 or 5 feet from where Rose was lying.
Leach said Rosfeld was panicking.
“He kept repeating the same thing over and over and over: ‘I don’t know why I shot, I don’t know why I fired,’” Leach said of Rosfeld’s demeanor immediately after the shooting.
Leach said more officers arrived on scene, and one ran to Rose and looked to be checking him for wounds. He said he heard that officer say, “He’s gone.”
Later he saw Rosfeld leaning against a building a bit further down the street, crying and hyperventilating, Leach testified. He said other officers were consoling him and then had to help him to another police car where he got in the backseat.
Thomassey pointed out on cross examination that Leach was 109 feet away when the shots were fired. He pointed out a tree-like shrub in Leach’s yard and asked him how he could see through it. He presented a photo of the foliage that was taken in July.
“It was just growing in,” Leach said. “It wasn’t that full.”
“It grew that much in 20 days?” Thomassey asked.
“Twenty days is a long time for a bush to grow,” Leach said.
Thomassey accused Leach of trying to bolster his testimony.
“You wouldn’t try to juice it up?” he asked.
“I didn’t even know the guy,” Leach said of Rose.
“You wouldn’t try to add things now, would you?” Thomassey tried again.
“I don’t have a reason to,” Leach said.
The first witness called Wednesday, Peyton Deri, is a student and football player at the University of Pittsburgh. He said he was driving through East Pittsburgh as the shooting occurred. He took a video with his phone that was played in court.
Deri said he saw a person in a white T-shirt exit a car and start running. He said he could not recall how many people exited the car.
“I heard three gunshots, if that’s what you mean,” when asked by Fitzsimmons what else he saw.
During cross examination, Thomassey focused on how far away Deri was when he observed the incident. Deri acknowledged during questioning from both sides that he could not see some details from where he was positioned.
“I could see some things,” Deri said when Thomassey questioned how much he could see.
Thomassey said Deri was about 600 feet away from the shooting.
Proceedings began in court with a discussion over whether to lift a gag order. Thomassey contended that a Tuesday evening news conference given by an attorney for Rose’s family violated a gag order preventing parties on both sides from talking about the case.
Fitzsimmons opposed any change to the gag order.
“I think there’s still a purpose to be served by that gag order,” he said.
Bicket declined to lift the order for now. He said what matters to him is that the case is tried in front of the jury, members of which will be sequestered for the duration of the trial and have been instructed not to read or watch any news regarding the case.
“I will ask folks to use their discretion in talking to the media,” Bicket said, adding he would not interpret the gag order for either side.
Attorneys kicked off the morning with a discussion over whether or not to lift the gag order. Thomassey, for the defense, said that a news conference given by an attorney for the family of Antwon Rose Tuesday violated a gag order that prevents parties on both sides from talking.
— Jamie Martines (@Jamie_Martines) March 20, 2019
In a letter to prosecutors, Rose’s mother, Michelle Kenney, asked that they present evidence letting the jury know who her child “really was.”
In the letter, released to media Wednesday by the office of family attorney S. Lee Merritt, Kenney thanks Fitzsimmons and Fodi for their work. She also expressed her frustration that none of the testimony during the first day of the trial discussed who her son was in life.
“I don’t know anything about trial strategy, but I know it is important that the jury has a chance to hear about who my son was,” Kenney wrote. “They deserve to know the real him. The defense has tried to make him out to be ‘just another thug,’ but please let the jury know who he really was.”
Speaking with reporters after testimony wrapped up Tuesday, Merritt said it’s been difficult to stand by while Rose’s “real story” isn’t being told.
“There’s been no perspective on Antwon’s life, who he truly was,” Merritt said. “His humanity has been absent so far from this trial.”
District Attorney spokesman Mike Manko said prosecutors are aware of the letter.
“We are aware of the concerns being expressed by the family,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “We are also still under a gag order regarding this trial, so I cannot comment with respect to those issues.”
Background from the trial’s first day:
Fitzsimmons and Thomassey put forth their main arguments in the trial Tuesday during their opening statements.
Fitzsimmons said that the shooting is not what is in question.
“The only other thing that could be disputed … is what was on the mind of Michael Rosfeld when he shot and killed another person,” he said.
Thomassey said police have different rules, and his expert witness — an expert in police use of force who has yet to testify — would prove that, he said.
“You have to make split-second decisions,” Thomassey said, making the shape of a gun with his thumb and forefinger. “You hesitate, you die.”
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