By Steve Pope | September 19, 2018
Saying that there may be an “appearance of impropriety” the judge assigned to oversee the case of the East Pittsburgh police officer accused of killing Antwon Rose during a traffic stop, removed himself from the case during a brief hearing Wednesday morning.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani made the announcement during a hearing that had been previously scheduled to consider a request for a gag order filed by Allegheny County Chief Trial Deputy, Daniel Fitzsimmons.
The case has been reassigned to Judge Alexander P. Bicket.
Just last week, Judge Mariani denied a request from Patrick Thomassey, the attorney who is representing Michael Rosfeld, the officer accused of shooting Rose. Mr. Thomassey made the request during a scheduled pre-trial conference, questioning whether Judge Mariani was impartial in light of statements he made during a television program.
During a segment of PCNC’s NightTalk called “Sidebar with Judge Mariani,” that aired on June 21, Mariani admitted saying, “Maybe he shot this man out of frustration,” referring to Officer Rosfled. He also called into question the officer’s training and commented that the shooting may not have been justified.
By refusing to recuse himself Judge Mariani responded, “This case isn’t about who presides over it, but what happened or didn’t happen. This is a fact case.” He also made it clear that didn’t feel he was incapable of being fair in presiding over the case. Although he did say that because of the statements there may be an “appearance of impropriety.”
During Wednesday’s hearing Mariani said, ““The appearance of impropriety issue is a very broad brush, and it goes far beyond actual intent.” He also added that there may be a possibility he will remove himself from the Zaijuan Hester case. Hester is the 17-year-old backseat passenger who is charged in a drive-by shooting that occurred a short time before Rose was shot.
Other activity in the case involves several motions filed by Mr. Fitzsimmons concerning issues over evidence. In one motion, he alleges it will “endanger” civilian witnesses if police reports and criminal history records of potential witnesses, are shared with Officer Rosfeld.
“Based on the recent increase of witness intimidation during criminal investigations and prosecutions, the commonwealth is extremely concerned the disclosure of any investigative reports, criminal history reports (i.e., ‘rap sheets,’) and statements of these civilian witnesses to the defendant will endanger those civilian witnesses,” the motion said.
In another motion Mr. Fitzsimmons is asking that certain police reports and related documents be reviewed by a judge to determine if they are required to be disclosed to Officer Rosfeld’s defense team.
As of Wednesday afternoon Mr. Thomassey has not filed a response to either motion.
A tentative date of Feb. 26 has been scheduled for jury selection to begin.
Steve Pope can be contacted at email@example.com