EAST PITTSBURGH, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania district attorney said a black teen fatally shot by an officer as he fled from a traffic stop had an empty gun clip in his pocket, but the family’s attorney said that has no bearing on whether the shooting was justified.
A portion of the Tuesday night shooting was captured on cellphone video and posted on Facebook, sparking some social media outrage and days of protests that had shut down a Pittsburgh area highway into early Friday morning. The Allegheny County police are conducting an independent investigation of the shooting by an officer in the suburb of East Pittsburgh, about 10 miles (16.09 kilometers) from Pittsburgh, that left 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. dead.
The shooting happened about 8:40 p.m. Tuesday after East Pittsburgh Officer Michael Rosfeld pulled over a car that had bullet damage to a back window matching the description of a car wanted in connection with a shooting in a nearby town about 15 minutes earlier. As Rosfeld was taking the driver into custody, the video showed Rose and another passenger exit the back door and start running.
Three gunshots can be heard, and the passengers can be seen either falling or crouching as they pass between houses. It is unclear from the video if Rosfeld yelled for them to stop.
Investigators said Rosfeld, who was officially sworn in as an East Pittsburgh officer earlier Tuesday night, was put on administrative leave during the investigation. A small group of protesters went to District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office early Friday, partly to complain that the officer had not yet been interviewed by investigators.
A call to a number listed for Rosfeld went unanswered. A WTAE-TEV reporter who went to his house Thursday briefly spoke to Rosfeld, who said he could not talk about the shooting, he was unaware of the video and that he was getting a lot of support from local law enforcement.
East Pittsburgh officials confirmed that Rosfeld had been working at the department for two to three weeks, and that he had worked at a handful of other police departments, including the University of Pittsburgh since 2011.
The medical examiner did not say where or how many times Rose was shot, but confirmed that he died of a gunshot wound to the torso after being taken to a hospital Tuesday night.
Zappala confirmed to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that an empty gun clip was found in Rose’s pocket after the shooting. He also said Rose was unarmed as he ran from the officer.
Police found two guns in the car, but later released the driver after questioning him because they felt they had no cause to charge him. Allegheny County Police Commissioner Coleman McDonough said the driver had told officers he worked as a jitney, an unlicensed private cab.
It was not clear whether other passengers had been in the car between the time the first shooting happened and when the car was pulled over. McDonough said officers were confident the car was the one described by the witness in the first shooting where a 22-year-old man was shot in the abdomen, treated at a hospital and released.
Lawyers for the family have said reports that Rose was involved in the earlier shooting have not been substantiated. Attorney Fred Rabner said the empty clip and the guns found in the car have no bearing on determining whether the shooting was justified.
“He is running away, empty-handed, and he is shot in the back. Period,” Rabner told the Post-Gazette.
Phone messages left by The Associated Press for the Rose family’s attorneys were not immediately returned. A message with the district attorney’s office was also not immediately returned.
Rose’s friends and family have described Rose as a teen who volunteered at a local charity, who took honors classes, who always joked and entertained younger kids and who would show up at job interviews wearing a three-piece suit. School administrators said teachers saw a lot of potential in the teen and said he had a “million-dollar smile.”