Recently we learned that the Allegheny County, PA. district attorney failed to win a conviction in the case of a former East Pittsburgh police officer, Michael Rosfeld. The fatal shooting of a teenager, Antwon Rose II, in the back while he was running away was widely covered by various new outlets. I will be the first to say that these types of cases are difficult to peel back the layers on and have the public understand why the jury, most likely, came back with their decision.
The case centers on the whether the teenagers involved were in a car suspected of performing a drive by shooting shortly before Rosfeld stopped them. This information alone will raise the awareness level of any police officer. Second important factor is whether Rosfeld believed that Rose was armed with a deadly weapon (gun). So let’s take a look at this case in detail, from what we know.
First, let’s examine Pennsylvania law in regards to when a police officer is justified in using deadly force. Title 18 § 508. Use of force in law enforcement. (a) Peace officer’s use of force in making arrest. states in part:
…….He is justified in the use of any force which he believes to be necessary to effect the arrest and of any force which he believes to be necessary to defend himself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest. However, he is justified in using deadly force only when he believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or such other person, or when he believes both that:
(i) such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape; and
(ii) the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony or is attempting to escape and possesses a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless arrested without delay.
The use of the pronoun “he” as written in the law should inform modern society that some updates are warranted. So here’s what most likely happened in this case. The prosecutors presented their case and facts. Rosfeld’s defense attorney then presented their beliefs that 1) Rose and his accomplice had probably committed the drive by shooting. 2) The teenagers fleeing of the vehicle when stopped by police adds to the element of suspicion that they had probably committed the violent act. 3) The officer believed that Rose was armed. These three components are most likely why Rosfeld was not convicted of murder or manslaughter. Running away from police is a dubious topic and disagreed upon by courts at times. Upon examining the law in detail with all of its and’s and or’s, the jury deliberated for 4 hours and could not convict Rosfeld of committing a crime. It’s worth noting that there were 3 African Americans on the jury.
It is safe to say that many states have written their officer use of deadly force similarly to Pennsyvania’s law. I believe that these laws regarding police use of deadly force need to change to fit modern times. Some members of the California legislature agree with me, or I agree with them. They are proposing a bill that would change how and when officers can use deadly force. I think we need a serious overhaul to when officers can use deadly force, especially when a suspect is running away from officers. I know what I’m saying is going to be controversial among police officers. However, the alternative of shooting people in the back while they are fleeing, without a clear knowledge that the person, if allowed to escape, will definitely harm or kill another person is something society can no longer afford.