The family of 17-year-old Antwon Rose has filed a federal lawsuit against the borough of East Pittsburgh, as well as its mayor, police chief and the officer who shot Rose.
The wrongful death suit alleges that East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld used excessive and deadly force in the June 19 shooting.
“The crux of our case is that Officer Rosfeld failed to act like a reasonable officer would under the same or similar circumstances,” said attorney Fred Rabner, who represents the Rose family.
The complaint filed Wednesday accused Rosfeld of shouting at Rose, as the unarmed teenager fled a car suspected of being involved in an earlier shooting, in a “hostile” manner. Rosfeld’s conduct was so inappropriate, Rabner said, that it prompted a bystander to film the confrontation on her phone.
Rabner faulted the officer for initiating the confrontation and drawing his weapon before backup units arrived on the scene. Rosfeld also didn’t offer medical aid or treatment to Rose in the aftermath of the shooting, Rabner said.
“But at the same time,” the attorney added, “they say the fish stinks from the head down. So what you have to consider is there are people and officials in place that failed as well.”
The lawsuit alleges that East Pittsburgh officials failed to “properly screen, vet, and review” Rosfeld when he applied to join the borough’s police force.
“This officer should’ve never been hired,” Rabner said, citing Rosfeld’s history at the University of Pittsburgh Police Department and possibly other police departments where he formerly worked.
The East Pittsburgh Police Department, Rabner said, either hadn’t established standards or guidelines to direct the hiring process, or simply ignored warnings about Rosfeld.
“Either way, they’re damned if they did and damned if the didn’t,” the lawyer said.
Rabner noted that Rosfeld was accused, in a separate civil suit filed in June, of wrongly arresting three men while still an officer at Pitt and then filing a false police report.
Upon filing a criminal charge against Rosfeld in June, Rabner added, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala also indicated that his office has a copy of Rosfeld’s personnel file and that some of the officer’s past behavior concerned him.
Rosfeld faces a count of criminal homicide for Rose’s death. He is currently free on a $250,000 unsecured bond and waived a preliminary hearing late last month.
Rosfeld will be arraigned Aug. 22, when he could plead guilty or proceed to trial.
When announcing the charge against Rosfeld, Zappala said Rosfeld shot to kill and indicated that he was wrong to do so, since Rose wasn't armed.
Rabner expects the suit filed Wednesday to allow for an “expansive evaluation” into the factors that contributed to the shooting. He said Rose’s parents did not hesitate to bring the suit.
“They’re resolute in their desire to make change in this heinous, tragic loss that they suffered,” Rabner said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
A spokesperson for the East Pittsburgh borough office declined to comment on the case. East Pittsburgh police chief Lori Fruncek, mayor Louis Payne, and solicitor Nick Evashavik could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. Officer Rosfeld’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, also could not be reached Thursday afternoon.