East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld was charged with homicide for shooting black teenager Antwon Rose just last week, and he's already facing a civil suit.
And at a Monday-morning press conference, attorney Robert N. Peirce III suggested more complaints may be forthcoming.
Peirce’s clients, Timothy Riley and Jacob Schilling, are suing Rosfeld and his then-employer, the University of Pittsburgh, along with an Oakland bar from which they were removed last December. The men say Rosfeld arrested them and charged them on the basis of camera footage that, according to Rosfeld's sworn statement at the time, proved they were trying to start a bar fight. But the charges were withdrawn at a Dec. 21 preliminary hearing.
“Police do not normally drop criminal charges,” said Peirce. “It is our belief that the videotape showed exactly what my clients said –- which is that they did nothing wrong whatsoever, that they should not have been charged with anything.”
"We have also been contacted by other citizens who have had similar situations with Officer Rosfeld in particular, where charges have in fact been dropped,” Peirce told reporters. “We are currently investigating those and anticipate representing more in the near future.”
Peirce said he was aware of more than five such incidents. Asked if there were more civil suits to come, he said, “That is a distinct possibility.”
The complaint alleges that Schilling and Riley were among a group of friends that visited the bar on Dec. 9 while celebrating Riley’s birthday. After having “one and/or two alcoholic drinks at the Garage Door Saloon, Mr. Schilling and a friend were unreasonably forecefully extricated from the bar” by bar owner Mark Welshonse. When Riley asked why they were being removed, the complaint says, Welshonse “proceeded to turn around and slam Mr. Riley up against the wall” and then “immediately used his knee to violently strike Mr. Riley in his groin area.”
Rosfeld arrived on the scene a short time after, even as Riley flagged another officer for help, the complaint says. Rosfleld, the complaint says, “threw [Riley and Schilling] up against the wall and handcuffed them.” The two were then taken to jail along with two other men, including one identified as Daniel Humphrey.
In his police affidavit about the incident, Rosfeld said that the men “were intoxicated with the odor of alcoholic beverage emanating from their person.” Riley, he wrote, “was extremely belligerent," yelling at the city police officer and Garage Door staff.
The affidavit says that the men were “thrown out of the bar for trying to start a fight,” and that the fourth man “kicked the glass side door of the business causing the glass to spider.” Riley, Schilling and Humphrey then attacked a Garage Door employee, he wrote.
“I reviewed video verifying Welshonse and [the other employee's] version of the incident recorded [by] security camera and the footage will be given to me,” it said.
The complaint field Monday includes 12 counts ranging from battery to false imprisonment. Some issues involving alleged civil-rights violations could ultimately end up in federal court, Peirce said.
The suit will seek monetary damages, but Peirce said his clients also wanted improvements to university police procedures.
“Ultimately what my clients are hoping to do is to help prevent anyone else from being in a similar situation,” he said. "They don’t want someone else to spend a night in jail when they did nothing wrong.”
The University of Pittsburgh is included in the complaint because, it alleges, the school “knew, or should have known” that Rosfeld “was not fully qualified to perform his duties” and “was not trained property.” Rosfeld’s work history, the complaint says, should have “raised red flags and/or concerns,” though it cites no evidence of prior misconuduct on his part.
Rosfeld had previously worked as a police officer in Harmar and Oakmont. He started working at East Pittsburgh after leaving the Pitt police force earlier this year. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette previously reported that he left amid a university investigation following the Garage Door incident.
Peirce's narrative dovetails with claims by journalist Shaun King, who has alleged that there were previous complaints about Rosfeld during his time at Pitt, but "when he assaulted the son of a chancellor, the school finally took action."
Daniel Humphrey is the son of senior vice chancellor Kathy Humphrey. He is not being represented by Peirce.
Joe Miksch, spokesman for Pitt, said the school would not comment on pending litigation. Welshonse did not immediately respond to a call Monday morning.