MICHELLE KENNEY, mother of the late Antwon Rose II, speaks during a July 14 news conference announcing the implementation of Pennsylvania’s new police misconduct database. It’s something Kenney, whose son was killed by a police officer with a checkered professional background, has been wanting for years. Also pictured are Attorney General Josh Shapiro, left, and state Rep. Austin Davis.
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
Was Michael Rosfeld fired from the University of Pittsburgh police department? Or did he resign?
Either way, what is clear is that Rosfeld, while employed by Pitt as a campus officer, was suspended by the university’s police department in December 2017 after he arrested three people following a scuffle at an Oakland bar. There were discrepancies as to what Rosfeld said occurred on that night and what surveillance video of the incident actually showed.
“Officer Rosfeld clearly had a pattern of issues in the previous police department that he worked for,” state Rep. Austin Davis voiced during an interview with Lynne Hayes-Freeland on KDKA Radio (100.1 FM, 1020 AM) on July 15. If there had been a statewide police misconduct database three years ago when Rosfeld was hired by the East Pittsburgh Police Department, Rep. Davis said, “they most likely would not have hired him and Antwon Rose may still be alive today.”
Today, it’s state law. Every police department in Pennsylvania must refer to a newly-created police misconduct database prior to hiring any police officer, which alerts the department of that officer’s prior incidents deemed questionable or controversial. Examples include excessive force, sexual abuse and misconduct, theft, discrimination and dishonest actions.
The legislation was signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last year, and on July 14, the database was officially up and running.
“Police and community agree that officers with a pattern of misconduct do not make our community safer,” said state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who fought for the database. “They should not be allowed to go from department to department. Misconduct records need to follow those officers.”
The East Pittsburgh Police Department is no more, disbanded following the controversial police shooting of Rose, who was almost 18 years old when he was gunned down by Rosfeld. It was Rosfeld’s first day on the job. Rose exited the car Rosfeld had pulled over and was running away from Rosfeld when Rosfeld shot Rose three times on June 19, 2018.
Officers with a checkered past getting hired at a different police department is nothing new in Pennsylvania. Robert Gowans, who, like Rosfeld, is White, shot and killed Romir Talley, who was Black, while serving as a Wilkinsburg police officer in 2019. Talley’s family and supporters contend the shooting was unjustified, while Wilkinsburg police said Talley fired a shot first at the responding officers. The shooting is still under investigation, but Gowans was able to secure a job as an officer for the Penn Hills police department in May.
It’s unclear if the Penn Hills police department was aware of the controversy surrounding Gowans when the department hired him, but when area community leaders learned of Gowans’ hiring by Penn Hills police, it led to a backlash against Penn Hills city leaders.
Those leaders, in turn, then fired Gowans.
STATE REP. AUSTIN DAVIS, pictured speaking at the podium, July 14.
“We’re in a profession where there’s a lot of power that’s invested in us from the community, and every day you’re put in a position where you can help change a life, save a life or take a life,” Pittsburgh Chief of Police Scott Schubert said, standing in solidarity at the July 14 news conference with Shapiro, state Reps. Davis, Ed Gainey and Sara Innamorato, and Michelle Kenney, mother of Antwon Rose II. “It’s something you can’t take lightly, so we need to make sure we have the right people in those communities.”
Chief Schubert added that the Pittsburgh Police unquestionably “wanted to be a part of this. It’s long overdue. To be quite frank, this should have been done years ago. There’s no chief that’s frustrated more than when somebody retires before you can terminate them, and the lack of being able to share information with other police departments for fear of liability. This takes that all off the table.”
The police misconduct database is not available to the public, Shapiro said. But police departments will now be held accountable for the hiring decisions they make, especially pertaining to officers who have proverbial “red flags” on their records.
“The public can have more trust in the people who are here to protect them,” Shapiro said. “…At a time when too many departments are short-staffed, this is especially as important as ever, as they now look to hire more officers. We believe that this database will save lives.”
Pennsylvania’s police misconduct records were labeled as “mostly closed” in an Associated Press report from May which investigated the records for each state. Seventeen additional states’ misconduct records were labeled as “mostly closed,” 16 states were labeled as “restricted,” and 15 states, including neighboring Ohio, were labeled as “mostly public.”
Getting to the point of having a police misconduct database become legislation in Pennsylvania, a state with a Republican-controlled House and Senate, was called “groundbreaking” by Rep. Gainey.
“Five years ago, would you have believed it?” he added.
ANTWON ROSE II
But following the death of Rose, Rep. Davis said he and his fellow representatives were determined to “fight to change the laws” pertaining to police misconduct and overall police reform in the state. “Out of that activism came this database. It is a deposit in the bank of justice, a down payment on a more equitable and just society and better policing system for all Pennsylvanians,” said Rep. Davis, who was raised in the same Mon Valley area as Rose.
MICHELLE KENNEY, center, mother of the late Antwon Rose II, speaks during a press conference, July 14. She has pushed for the statewide police misconduct database for years.
Kenney never asked to be thrust into the spotlight, never thought there would be a day that her son would be taken from her by a police officer. As she watched Rosfeld be cleared of all charges in the death of her son in March 2019, Rep. Gainey applauded Kenney for her ability to continue fighting for police reform and accountability.
“Michelle, I don’t know how you do it,” he said to her at the news conference. “A mom who lost a son, her activism steady talking to the A.G. (Attorney General) to make sure that something like this happens…I told Michelle before; we didn’t bury Antwon, we planted him.”
Kenney said at the news conference she was adamant that the police misconduct database would be mandatory for all police departments in the state.
“Any police chief who looks on that database on a new hire knows exactly what they are getting, which makes a difference in the community,” she said. “We will no longer have to worry about an officer being relocated into your neighborhood when you know that he took a life in the neighborhood next to yours. …What is important to me is that no other family has to experience this pain.”