East Pittsburgh mayor defends borough during tense council meeting
Residents spent 90 minutes Tuesday demanding East Pittsburgh Borough council members fire officer Michael Rosfeld — a decision the mayor says will not be made by the council.
More than 50 people attended the tiny borough’s first meeting since Rosfeld shot unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose II June 19. They also demanded the borough adopt police policies, and that the mayor and five council members resign.
The decision of whether to fire Rosfeld will not be up to the borough’s elected officials, but up to lawyers and solicitors, Mayor Louis Payne told the Trib. It will not be decided until after Rosfeld’s case plays out in court, Payne said.
Rosfeld faces criminal homicide charges. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 27.
In response to the criticism, Payne pointed to a number of community events, such as the upcoming annual East Pittsburgh Unity Festival, and asked for more volunteers.
“We don’t get any…any black volunteers, that many, we get the black churches who are doing a great job here,” Payne said. “Hopefully out of this thing tonight we’ll get a whole bunch of people who wanna get involved. I’d love it.”
Payne said the borough has police policies, but “they might not have been updated the way they should have been.”
Allegheny County District Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said last month the borough did not have any police policies or procedures.
Ashley Cannon, who has lived in East Pittsburgh for 33 years, was crying during the meeting. Her children were outside when Rose was shot, she said.
“I cannot sit here crying because this boy was dead and my little kids were hurt and now they’re terrified,” Cannon said. “They’re terrified because a cop shot a black boy … our kids are scared of the cops, Lou, what are we supposed to do?
Nearly 60 percent of the residents 1,775 residents are black, according to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Despite that, all council members and the mayor are white, several residents pointed out.
“You don’t have to deal with this. You don’t have to live in brown skin,” Dawn Macon, who moved away from the borough because of racial profiling, she told the council.
Several audience members went so far as to call the board the KKK.
Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson, vice president of Wilkinsburg council, said the borough needs a black police chief and bias training. She offered to share policies.
“This would never happen in Wilkinsburg,” she said.
East Pittsburgh Police Chief Lori Fruncek, Payne’s daughter, met with the Wilkinsburg chief two weeks ago, Payne said after the meeting.
“They did exchange information and we’re very thankful to her for that,” Payne said.
They have also been meeting with other municipalities, he said.
The borough has made some changes, Payne said, but declined to name them.
“We are engaged in an evaluation of the operation of our police department and borough in the spirit of correcting any shortcomings we may have,” Payne said in an opening statement. “This will take some time, but our commitment is to get it done as soon as possible.”
Payne said he would have a timeline for the changes at the next council meeting next month.
Council member Mary Carol Kennedy said she did not realize so many community members live in fear of police.
“I was not aware of those fears, I really was not,” Kennedy told reporters after the meeting.
Payne and three council members are up for reelection in three years, while another two are up in May, Payne said.
Nicholas Evashavik, borough solicitor, ran the meeting and advised the council members not to comment about Rosfeld and the shooting because of the ongoing investigation, he said.
Evashavik is an attorney with Pittsburgh-based Evashavik, DiLucente & Tetlow, LLC.
All members were present at the meeting except Paul Borkowski.
This story has been updated to correct the name of the council member who was absent. Council member Joe Esposto was present.
Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Theresa at 412-380-5669, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tclift. Staff writer Megan Guza contributed to this report.