East Pittsburgh officials mum on DA’s criticism, offices closed, protest shuts down expressway
The day after Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said East Pittsburgh Police has no policies, the tiny borough’s elected officials have gone silent while its staff have gone missing.
However, protest marches in the name of justice for Antwon Rose continued in East Pittsburgh on Thursday night when a group of around 75 people marched up the Tri-Boro Expressway into Turtle Creek from the East Pittsburgh Borough Building.
About 8 p.m., Mayor Bill Peduto of the city of Pittsburgh arrived and listened to the concerns of protesters who argued that it’s unfair that East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld is on house arrest, rather than being held in jail without bond.
Peduto called on the court to increase Rosfeld’s bond or revoke it. Rosfeld was released Wednesday on $250,000 unsecured bond.
The group of protesters demanded justice for Rose, the 17-year-old Woodland Hills High School student who was fatally shot while running from Rosfeld on June 19. Before marching, protesters left stuffed animals, candles and homemade memorial signs in front of the police station, which has remained empty most of the week.
Zappala made his policies criticism Wednesday morning during a news conference held to announce charges against Rosfeld.
Nicholas Evashavik, borough solicitor, has told council members not to speak to the media about Zappala’s comment, East Pittsburgh Council President Dennis Simon told the Trib on Thursday.
The borough plans to send out a news release to address it, Simon said. As of 7 p.m. Thursday, no such release had gone out.
Meanwhile, 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.
People in town had mixed feelings about the East Pittsburgh police.
Dean Kerkentzes, 59, of Penn Hills said the force greatly improved after Lori Fruncek, Mayor Louis Payne’s daughter, became East Pittsburgh police chief in 2008.
“Before she was chief, I hardly saw police,” said Kerkentzes, who runs a convenience store next to police headquarters. “Things got much better under Lori.”
Between the shooting and a massive landslide in April that collapsed three lanes of Route 30 and an apartment building — both national news — it’s been a tough year for East Pittsburgh, said Kerkentzes, whose family opened the store in 1968.
“People are stressed,” Kerkentzes said. “For a little borough, we’ve been in the news quite a bit.”
The borough’s population is 1,775, according to the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Nearly 60 percent of those residents are black. The median household income is estimated at just under $25,700.
Even after Fruncek became chief, some have had issues with East Pittsburgh police.
Rob Wilds, 35 of Wilkins was driving through the borough one night about six years ago when an East Pittsburgh officer pulled him over for no reason, he said.
“He said he pulled me over just because he had never seen my car before,” said Wilds, who is black. The officer was white, he said.
“He seemed upset because I wasn’t doing anything,” Wilds said. “My daughter was in the car, he asked for her ID, too. She was 12 at the time.”
Wilds has also seen East Pittsburgh officers park for extended periods at the Sunoco gas station and then pull black people over as soon as they drive away for no apparent reason, he said.
“It’s like they’re manufacturing pull-overs,” Wilds said.
Bill Roland, 66, has thought for years there should be a regional police department for many of the small boroughs like East Pittsburgh and North Braddock, where he has lived his whole life.
“Small towns like this don’t have enough money,” Roland said while pumping gas at the same Sunoco that Wilds mentioned. “These towns have a lot of part-time police, where officers have to work for multiple departments to support their families. That has to be hard.”
Rosfeld was working part time for East Pittsburgh when he shot Rose. He previously had worked part time for Oakmont and Harmar and full time for University of Pittsburgh.
Roland also supports voluntary municipal disincorporation, which would allow boroughs and townships to start relying on the Allegheny County for services, including police. That legislation has been introduced to the General Assembly .
“Towns have a hard time with losing their identity, but it’s something each town should sit down and seriously consider,” Roland said.
Trib staffers Andrew Russell, Renatta Signorini and Natasha Lindstrom contributed. Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.