Community Issues

Juror: Police Shooting Verdict Was the Right Decision

Foreman says races of officer & victim was not a factor in decision.

(Interview Images: WHTM-TV)

The foreman of the jury that acquitted a white police officer of homicide in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager last June is standing by that verdict, and explaining the jurors' thinking behind it.

In an exclusive interview with WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, PA retired schoolteacher Jesse Rawls Sr. said the jurors were prepared to convict former East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld in the shooting of 17-year old Antwon Rose, if they had believed Rosfeld was not justified. But Rawls, who is African American, says they were convinced that Rosfeld simply did what he was trained to do. Rawls and the other jurors, three of whom were African American, were brought to Pittsburgh from Dauphin County because of pre-trial publicity about the Rosfeld case.

Rawls told WHTM , video of a drive-by shooting an hour before the fatal confrontation was a major factor in the jury's decision. The video shows Rose in the front seat of the car and the shooter in the back seat. "We had a chance to watch the drive-by shooting unfold," said Rawls. "Someone rolled down the window and shot nine times, and hitting someone standing on the corner at least once."

The jury also had an opportunity to listen to dispatch communication that indicated Rosfeld spotted a vehicle that matched the description of the one in the shooting. "Rosfeld made a felony traffic stop and tried to gain control of the situation with three people in the car," said Rawls. "He had his gun drawn and told the driver to throw the keys out of the window."

When Rose and the other passenger ran from the car, and Rose looked like he was pulling something from his pocket, Rawls says the jury believed Rosfeld had no other choice but to shoot. "That decision he made to do the things he did was within a second."

(Image: Monday's protest march; Alliance for Police Accountability Facebook page )

Rawls says he understands the hurt and anger felt by those who have been protesting the verdict. "If I would not have been in the jury room, and listening and seeing all the evidence and getting the chance to evaluate the whole process, I probably would be feeling the way they are feeling," said Rawls, who added that the race of the officer and the victim had no impact on their deliberations.

"The 12 people in that jury room did what was right." Jesse Rawls Sr., Jury Foreman

Rawls said reading the verdict was difficult. "I paused before I read each verdict," said Rawls. "I knew that the country was watching, and a lot of people in Pittsburgh were going to be hurting as soon as word got out about the decisions."

Rawls said the jury felt for both sides, whose lives were changed forever by the shooting. "This was not a complex case," said Rawls. "Had Antwon Rose and the other passenger stayed in the car and listened to the Rosfeld's commands, a teenager would still be alive and Rosfeld would still be working as a police officer."

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