Officials: Newly sworn-in East Pittsburgh cop fatally shot unarmed teen
An East Pittsburgh police officer sworn in Tuesday night shot and killed an unarmed teen who ran from a traffic stop less than two hours into the officer’s first shift with the department, authorities said.
Authorities identified the dead teen as 17-year-old Antwon Rose, a Woodland Hills High School honors student who district officials said was one English class shy of graduating. He had been riding in a car suspected to be involved in another shooting 13 minutes earlier on North Braddock’s Kirkpatrick Avenue, according to Allegheny County police.
A 22-year-old man wounded in the North Braddock shooting was treated and released from a hospital.
The deadly shooting in East Pittsburgh happened at 8:40 p.m. after borough police pulled over a car near Grandview Avenue and Howard Street — about 1½ miles from the scene of the North Braddock shooting. Officials said the car, a silver Chevrolet Cruze, matched the description of one involved in the earlier shooting and appeared to have gunfire damage to its back window.
As an officer ordered the 20-year-old driver to the ground, two people ran from the car, police said. The officer opened fire, striking Rose.
Rose was taken to UPMC McKeesport, where he was pronounced dead at 9:19 p.m., officials said.
Officers found two firearms on the floor of the car, police said. They found no weapons on Rose, who was shot three times, according to Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough. The police superintendent didn’t say where the bullets struck the teen.
‘Why are they shooting?’
An 18-second video posted to Facebook by a user under the name Shauny Mary shows a police sport utility vehicle with lights flashing stopped behind a car at dusk. A second police vehicle drives up as a person in a white shirt gets out of the passenger side of the car and starts to run between buildings. He is followed by another passenger in a black shirt.
The person in the white shirt had his back to an officer standing on the driver’s side of the police SUV when three shots rang out. That person can be seen falling forward to the ground.
“Why are they shooting? All they did was run and they’re shooting at them,” a person can be heard saying in the video, which had been viewed more than 75,000 times by late Wednesday afternoon.
McDonough said the video is important, but has to be taken into context with the entire investigation. No dash camera or body camera footage exists, he said.
When asked whether an officer could be justified in shooting a fleeing suspect in the back, McDonough said yes if the person is presenting a threat of deadly force to people. He said it is too early to tell whether the East Pittsburgh officer was justified in this case.
State law allows an officer to use deadly force to prevent someone from fleeing an arrest if that person has committed or attempted a forcible felony, possesses a deadly weapon or indicates he or she will kill or injure someone.
McDonough said he could not say what happened before the Facebook video starts, or whether the officer felt Rose was a danger to the community because police have not yet interviewed the officer.
“That officer has the same right as any other citizen, has the right to counsel, so I’m sure that plays in to this scenario,” McDonough said.
‘It doesn’t look good’
McDonough declined to disclose the officer’s race.
“I don’t understand what that has to do with the situation,” McDonough said.
Rose was black.
“We very concerned about what we saw. It doesn’t look good. It looks extremely questionable. We’re very troubled,” said Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project, which is holding a news conference Thursday morning on the shooting.
Philadelphia attorney S. Lee Merritt released a statement Wednesday saying he was on his way to Western Pennsylvania to represent Rose’s family.
“We know very little about the circumstances surrounding his death at this early stage. We must emphasize that rumors of him being involved in a separate shooting are unsubstantiated,” the statement said. “We know that he was not armed at the time he was shot down, that he posed no immediate threat to anyone, and that, significantly, the driver of the vehicle he occupied was released from police custody.”
McDonough said the East Pittsburgh officer involved in the shooting has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard procedure.
East Pittsburgh Mayor Louis J. Payne told the Tribune-Review that the officer had been sworn in to the department a few hours before the shooting, but had worked with other area departments for eight years, including Harmar Township, Oakmont and the University of Pittsburgh. Payne declined to name the officer.
McDonough said police released the driver of the car because they determined he wasn’t a suspect in the earlier shooting in North Braddock. Police are looking for the car’s third passenger. They did not identify him or provide his age.
Eric Haynes lives a few houses up from where police shot Rose. He said he heard the sirens and three gunshots.
“I don’t know what led up to it, but it’s going to be bad either way,” Haynes said Wednesday morning outside his home. “There’s going to be backlash.”
Police promise objective investigation
County police will present the findings of their investigation to the District Attorney’s Office, which will rule whether the shooting was justified, McDonough said.
McDonough assured the community that the police investigation would be objective.
“I understand in today’s atmosphere, any time a young man is killed, there’s cause for outrage at some areas,” McDonough said. “However, I urge people to give us time to conduct an investigation, to gather facts … I would urge that people in the community give us the chance to conduct an objective investigation and I guarantee that’s what they’ll get from the Allegheny County Police.”
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has consistently ruled recent fatal police shootings are justified.
In 1999, Zappala reopened an investigation into former Pittsburgh Housing Authority Police Officer John Charmo and charged him with homicide. A jury deadlocked and Charmo pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2001.
Former Pittsburgh police Officer Jeffrey Cooperstein faced homicide charges in 2000 but was acquitted by a jury.
No other police officer has been charged with a fatal shooting in the line of duty since, DA’s office spokesman Mike Manko wrote to the Tribune-Review.
In 2015, Manko told the Tribune-Review that the district attorney’s office has prosecuted more than 100 officers for various offenses, including a handful where the office had to determine if the use of force by a police officer was justified.
Staff writers Jamie Martines, Chuck Biedka and Madasyn Czebiniak contributed. Megan Guza and Theresa Clift are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Guza at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib. Reach Clift at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.