East Pittsburgh officials break silence, lament ‘myriad of death threats’ against officials
East Pittsburgh Borough officials have received “a myriad of death threats” and altered daily operations amid calls for justice and accountability in the killing of 17-year-old Antwon Rose, the borough’s law firm said Friday.
A statement attributed to the elected officials of East Pittsburgh and its police chief emphasized that the borough is taking seriously the “tragic events” and allegations directed at the management of the borough’s police department.
East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld — the 30-year-old Penn Hills man charged with criminal homicide Wednesday in Rose’s death — will remain on unpaid leave while the criminal proceedings play out in court, said the statement provided by the borough’s Downtown Pittsburgh-based law firm, Evashavik, DiLucente & Tetlow LLC.
“We endeavor to come to terms with the startling and dramatic events that have occurred over the past two weeks,” borough officials said in the statement. “We continue to strive to maintain borough operations while presented with numerous protests and the myriad of death threats directed to borough leadership which have caused us to make certain changes to our operations.”
The statement did not specify the types of changes underway.
“We are engaged in an evaluation of the operations of our police department in a determined spirit of correcting any shortcomings that we find,” the statement said.
A borough attorney reached by the Tribune-Review declined to comment beyond the newly released statement.
East Pittsburgh officials also expressed their sympathy for the family and friends of Rose, a Woodland Hills High School student one English class shy of graduating , and their “profound sorrow” over the teenager’s death.
The statement broke days of silence by borough officials during the turbulent aftermath of the June 19 killing of Rose, who was shot while running from Rosfeld.
Soon after stopping a jitney car believed to be involved in a North Braddock shooting earlier that night, Rosfeld ordered the 20-year-old driver to the ground, and two teenagers ran from the car. Rosfeld opened fire, striking Rose three times. The other person kept running.
Rose, who was unarmed when he was shot but had an empty handgun magazine in one of his pockets, was pronounced dead a short time later at UPMC McKeesport hospital.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Rose’s death a homicide two days later.
The shooting of Rose, who is black, has led to numerous demonstrations in and around Pittsburgh and sparked vigorous public debate nationally. Rose was eulogized in a private funeral service Monday.
The borough office, normally open until 2:30 p.m., has been closed for at least two days. Trib reporters who went to the office before that time on Wednesday and Thursday found it locked and empty.
East Pittsburgh police cars were seen Thursday afternoon at the Turtle Creek Police headquarters, a three-minute drive away.
On Wednesday, District Attorney Stephen Zappala rebuked East Pittsburgh for having no policies “for anything, as far as we know,” describing the borough’s setup as “a very dangerous situation.”
Zappala noted the borough cannot be held criminally responsible for Rosfeld’s actions but added that “civilly, they’ve got a lot of answering to do.”
The DA further lamented that Allegheny County police procedures vary widely across 118 individual departments.
Legislation is in the works in an effort to enhance and streamline police training across the region.
In Friday’s statement, East Pittsburgh officials thanked bordering agencies for the “positive support that neighboring municipalities have extended to us.”
The statement emphasized that the borough was cooperating fully with Allegheny County Police detectives.
Rosfeld is out on a $250,000 unsecured bond and on house arrest until his next court appearance.
“We recognize that Officer Rosfeld has a right to due process of the law as the criminal prosecution proceeds,” the statement said. “We wish to convey to the residents of our borough and our greater community that we are committed to learn from these very difficult lessons and improve our management of our local government.”
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Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.