By The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The foreman of a jury that acquitted a White Pennsylvania police officer of homicide said Michael Rosfeld did not know the Black teen he shot was unarmed and that his decision to run after his vehicle was pulled over factored into the verdict.
Juror Jesse Rawls Sr. told WHTM-TV that Antwon Rose II and another occupant who ran from the stop “brought it on themselves” and that the then-East Pittsburgh officer knew there had just been a drive-by shooting and was scared.
Marchers gather at the City-County building near the statue of former Pittsburgh Mayor Richard S. Caliguiri before taking to the streets in Pittsburgh, Monday, March 25, 2019. The group called for justice after former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld was acquitted on Friday, March 22, 2019 in the homicide trial where he was charged with shooting and killing 17-year-old Antwon Rose II last summer near Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
“It’s a felony stop,” Rawls said. “Once it’s a felony stop, you have to take precautions.” He said Rosfeld could not let the occupants get away, and “he didn’t know what the kid had.”
Rawls, 72, who is Black, is a retired schoolteacher and wrestling coach from Harrisburg, where jurors were picked for last week’s trial in Pittsburgh.
He said jurors “did what was right” in acquitting Rosfeld of all charges Friday. The verdict has prompted protests over four days, including hundreds of high school and college students marching Monday in downtown Pittsburgh.
Rawls was among three African-Americans on the 12-person jury.
Rosfeld was responding to a report of a drive-by shooting in nearby North Braddock in June when he saw a vehicle that matched the description — an unlicensed taxi in which Rose was a passenger.
As Rosfeld was dealing with the driver, Rose and the other passenger got out and ran. Video captured Rosfeld shooting Rose three times, including in the back.
“If the kids wouldn’t have jumped out and ran, they would have never been in the situation,” Rawls told the station. “So put the onus on the young men in the car, why did they jump and run?”
He noted there was a senior center near where Rose was shot. Rawls said Rosfeld might have been concerned that Rose was armed and could have gone into the center and begun shooting.
The other taxi passenger, Zaijuan Hester, 18, pleaded guilty earlier this month to aggravated assault and firearms violations, saying he — and not — Rose did the shooting during the drive-by incident.
Rose was in fact unarmed when he was killed, although he did have a gun clip in his pocket. Two handguns were recovered from the taxi.
Rosfeld’s lawyer, Patrick Thomassey, said after the verdict that his client probably cannot work again as a police officer. East Pittsburgh disbanded its force late last year, and Rosfeld and the borough face civil litigation over the shooting filed by Rose’s family.
Rawls said that if he had not witnessed the trial, he might have feelings similar to those expressed by the protesters regarding the shooting’s racial elements. Marchers have repeatedly chanted their opposition to racist police and portrayed Rose as victim of injustice and deserving of sympathy.
“I think that they have to accept the fact that the 12 people in the jury room did what was right,” Rawls said. “Now, if you wanted me to do what was wrong and convict him of something that was wrong to please the neighborhood, then that’s not fair.”
He also told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the jury was not unanimous at the start of deliberations.
“Some people had to change their minds,” he told the paper. “It was a discussion, like, ‘Tell me why he is not guilty.’ And then we went over it on the screen and we came up with the answer, and the person said, ‘OK, I read this the wrong way.’”