MICHELLE KENNEY, mother of Antwon Rose II, who was killed by a police officer in June 2018. (Photos by Dayna Delgado)
by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
Michelle Kenney visits a cemetery.
The parents of Michael Rosfeld get to have dinner with him.
As Kenney echoed those words during testimony at a hearing in Hawkins Village in Rankin, the crowd of about 75 collectively gasped and shook their heads in disgust.
“With proper training, I believe the outcome could have been different,” Kenney, the mother of Antwon Rose II, said during the Aug. 27 House Democratic Policy Committee hearing.
On June 19, 2018, Rose was shot three times while running away from former East Pittsburgh Officer Michael Rosfeld. Rose later died from his injuries. He was 17 years old.
Nine months later, a jury found Rosfeld not guilty on criminal homicide charges. “He left the courtroom before I did,” Kenney said at the hearing.
Never to have Rose’s death be in vain, state Reps. Summer Lee and Ed Gainey, with the support of many other legislators across the state, introduced House Bill 1664 to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. House Bill 1664 states that a peace officer is justified to use “reasonable” force deemed necessary to effectuate an arrest, “reasonable” force deemed necessary to defend himself or others from bodily harm, and using deadly force only when he “reasonably” believes that such force is necessary.
Currently, the word “reasonable” is not part of the use of force laws in Pennsylvania. The word “any” is used.
“Our legislation seeks to eliminate effectuating an arrest as a justification for the use of deadly force,” Reps. Lee and Gainey wrote in a memorandum to all House members, March 29, 2019. “Our proposal would mandate that de-escalation and non-lethal force options be exhausted prior to lethal force being deployed and that lethal force only be used and justified to prevent imminent threat to life.”
“Antwon didn’t have to die,” Kenney, wearing a purple #JFA (Justice for Antwon) shirt, said to Reps. Lee, Gainey and other legislators at the Aug. 27 hearing. “No matter what people may have thought that he did or did not do, my son did not have to and did not deserve to die. In that situation, had my son have committed any infraction, he should have been given the same opportunity that Officer Rosfeld was given, and he should have had a trial. He (Rose) didn’t have to die. And for him to die under the circumstances of being shot three times in the back is unbearable for me as his mother.”
Pennsylvania’s use of force law states that a police officer is justified in using deadly force when “he believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or such other person, or when he believes both that: (i) such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape; and (ii) the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony or is attempting to escape and possesses a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless arrested without delay.”
Jurors in the Rosfeld trial couldn’t render a guilty verdict with the law written as such, because Rosfeld had stopped a car that was involved in a drive-by shooting just moments earlier and when Rose and Zaijuan Hester fled the vehicle, Rosfeld could have felt that his life was in danger, his lawyers argued.
It was later determined that Rose was unarmed when he fled the felony traffic stop, and he never fired a weapon during the drive-by shooting in nearby North Braddock moments before he was shot by Rosfeld (Hester was found guilty of shooting a man in the North Braddock incident).
“I just hope that everybody understands that the changes that are being proposed in this use of force bill (House Bill 1664) are not to harm the police or cause them any danger or put their lives in danger—it’s just to protect the people that they’re supposed to protect and serve,” Kenney said. “I have nothing against the police. I just want the language in that use of force bill to be changed so that no other mother has to sit in this seat and beg you to offer their child protections that should be guaranteed under the law anyway.”
Representative Lee, whose state House District includes Rankin, said during the hearing that police officers “should be held to the highest standard in our societies. These are folks who we rely on to serve our community and to protect us, and even as they are in dangerous situations we know that with a badge and a gun that they have the power of life or death over people in our communities. We want to make sure that we are preserving life as often as possible.”
Millvale Police Chief Tim Komoroski was the lone police officer to testify in person at the hearing. He said he’s confident his officers are acting within the law and are trained to de-escalate situations. On Sept. 1, Millvale became just the second police department in the North Hills area to provide body cameras for each officer.
“I know my officers are doing the right thing, so I have no hesitation to put body cameras on them,” the chief said.
But overall, most law enforcement agencies aren’t on board with the proposed House Bill 1664. The Pennsylvania State Police prepared a written testimony to the legislators, saying it “does not believe House Bill 1664 will provide citizens with further protections. Instead, House Bill 1664 appears to be based on a flawed interpretation of the existing statute governing use of deadly force for peace officers and would limit an officer’s use of deadly force to that currently authorized to private citizens in defense of oneself.”
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association submitted testimony stating it “cannot support the legislation (House Bill 1664) as written. We are concerned that completely eliminating the ability for an officer to use deadly force against a felon who is fleeing will have negative consequences both in terms of officer safety and in apprehending dangerous suspects.”
Jasiri X, co-founder of activist organization 1 Hood Media, disagreed with the written testimony of some of the agencies. “It seems like these incidents keep going higher and higher and higher. Well, why? Because there is no accountability,” Jasiri X testified. “Because if I can kill with impunity and not only be arrested, but sometimes be promoted, then I’m going to kill again. That’s part of my job.”
Brandi Fisher, CEO of the Alliance for Police Accountability, agreed with Jasiri X during the hearing. “The use of force law as it is currently written, allows officers to get away with murder,” she said. “The use of force law as it is currently written, allows officers to shoot 17-year-old kids in the back.”
Fisher then directed her next statement at the state legislators who were present at the hearing, and those legislators who weren’t. “You have the opportunity and hopefully the will to amend this legislation not just because young Black kids are being murdered and officers are getting away with it, but because we have a world of young people who are growing, who should be afforded the opportunity to make mistakes, to overreact, to be human, and not lose their lives.”
Follow @NewPghCourier on Twitter https://twitter.com/NewPghCourier