Jury hears from six witnesses in the first day of the Michael Rosfeld trial

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By Steve Pope | March 19, 2019

The homicide trial of former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld accused of shooting 17-year-old Antwon Rose in the back is underway in Common Pleas Court.

Attorneys in the case took close to an hour Tuesday morning in making their opening statements to the six male and six female jurors, who were selected last week from Dauphin County.

Allegheny County Chief Trial Deputy District Attorney Dan Fitzsimmons provided the jury with a timeline of the events that took place on June 19. 

Fitzsimmons urged the jurors to focus on what “Michael Rosfeld knew when he pulled the trigger.”

Before the trial, prosecutors attempted to limit the testimony and evidence in the case to the actual shooting. Their attempts to keep the jury from hearing about a drive-by shooting that occurred minutes before Rose was shot during a felony traffic stop were not successful. Common Pleas Judge Alexander P. Bicket ruled Friday that the defense could introduce evidence of Rose’s alleged involvement in the earlier shooting which injured two people.

“In the end what really, really matters is what Michael Rosfeld knew, what he believed and what he thought when he pulled the trigger,” Fitzsimmons said.

Rosfeld’s attorney Patrick Thomassey asked jurors how they would want police officers or sheriff’s deputies patrolling the courthouse to react if someone opened fire in the courtroom.

He told jurors that police officers protect us. “That’s what police officers do every single day.”  He said that 144 police officers were killed last year. Five days before before the shooting two police officers were shot in North Braddock.

“The one thing that I was hoping Mr. Fitzsimmons would tell us this morning is what Mike Rosfeld did wrong.” This was met by several gasps from the spectators who were cautioned by a sheriff’s deputy to remain quiet in the courtroom.

Thomassey argued that Rosfeld acted appropriately and in accordance with how police officers are trained to use deadly force if they perceive a threat.

He explained to the jurors that East Pittsburgh and North Braddock are crime-ridden and dangerous areas. “This is the area that Mike Rosfeld had to patrol every day,” Thomassey said.

The first witness to be called was Forensic pathologist Abdulrezak Al-Shakir, who is employed by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office. He testified that Rose was shot three times. The lethal bullet entered his back between the 11th and 12th ribs. It penetrated his left lung, his aorta and lodged in his heart.

Dr. Al-Shaki testified that Rose suffered significant blood loss and his injuries were not survivable. He died a short time after being shot despite first responders performing CPR on him.

He told jurors that hydrocodone was found in Rose’s urine, but there was none found in his blood. He added that his urine could not be tested for cocaine because the sample was not large enough.

The next witness was North Braddock police Sgt. Brian Hodges, who testified that at 8:27 p.m. he received a call for shots fired near the intersection of Baldridge and Jones Avenues.

He arrived on the scene within 90 seconds. He saw Thomas Cole holding his stomach and observed blood on his shirt. Cole refused to provide his name or give any details about what happened. A nearby resident gave Hodges a description of the car that was involved in the shooting and said that it fled the scene on Jones Avenue.

Exhibit 200
Police photo of the crime scene of the earlier drive-by shooting in which at least one witness has named Antwon Rose as the gunman.

About 10 minutes later Hodges heard over the radio that the car suspected in the shooting was stopped by an East Pittsburgh police officer. He explained that the location of the stop was less than a mile from the shooting scene. Thirty seconds later he heard “shots fired” and proceeded to the location of the traffic stop. When he arrived, he observed that someone was giving Rose CPR.

A week prior to the shooting, in an area close to the location of the drive-by shooting,  Hodges was shot in the chest, but the bullet was stopped by his protective vest. Rosfeld responded to that shooting and assisted him.

Detective Thomas Foley of the Allegheny County Police was the first witness to testify after the lunch break. He explained to jurors how he processed the scene of the drive-by shooting.

Nine .40 caliber shell casings and four .45 shell casings were found at the scene. According to court documents, two handguns were recovered from the car used in the drive-by shooting. One was recovered under the front passenger seat where Rose was sitting and the other was found under the rear seat where Zaijun Hester was seated. One of the guns was a .40 caliber which was stolen from Rose’s employer about five hours before the drive-by shooting.

Video from two surveillance cameras captured the shooting. The video shows the car, a gold Cruze, pull to the intersection of Baldridge and Jones Avenues. The back window comes down and Hester is seen firing a handgun. Foley testified that a pedestrian who was at the scene of the shooting fired at the car, shattering the rear window.

After an afternoon break, the prosecution called Debra Jones who testified that she witnessed the shooting. Under questioning by Fitzsimmons, Jones told the jury that she saw Rosfeld initiate the traffic stop while she was sitting on her porch. “As soon as they got out of the car they ran and Rosfeld fired his pistol.

Jones claimed that she was watching Rosfeld at the time.  She testified that Rosfeld did not have his emergency lights on at the time and added that she did not hear the sound of a siren.

She said that Rosfeld got out of his patrol vehicle and immediately pulled his weapon, pointing it at the Cruze. She testified that Rosfeld ordered the driver out and then ordered the passengers out of the car.

“I seen a pair of long legs get out and I said, ‘Please, God, don’t run,’” she said. “Then they ran.”

“All of a sudden, he drew his gun. I fell down to the ground.” She then heard three shots which she described as “boom, boom, boom.”

However, under questioning by Thomassey Jones was argumentative.  Thomassey asked Jones if the two men raised or made any type of movement with their hands. She responded “No.” Thomassey then confronted her with a statement she gave to police in which she said both men had their hand in the air as they ran from the car.

The report also alleged that Jones was under the influence at the time she spoke with the police, which was several hours after the shooting. Jones admitted to having “a few drinks” of whiskey at her neighbors a short time after the shooting.

The last witness of the day was Lashaun Livingston, the East Pittsburgh resident who used her iPhone to record the video of Rose’s shooting  that she later posted on Facebook.

She said that Rosfeld had his gun pointed at the vehicle and was standing behind his door. She testified that Rosfeld spoke “in an angry tone.”

“I saw his weapon pointed at the car and the next thing I knew the gun went off.”

Livingston said that she suffered a panic attack right after the shooting so she was unable to record more than about 24 seconds of video. She said her mom can be heard in the background screaming. She added that a second officer arrived as “the last shot was fired.

On cross examination she replied “I am not sure” to the first seven questions asked by Thomassey. She also admitted that her apartment was 180 feet away from the scene of the shooting.

Testimony will continue Wednesday morning starting at 9 a.m.

Steve Pope can be contacted at steve.pope@grantstreetnews.com

 

 

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