While police officers often get away with all kinds of misconduct, criminal cases are sometimes filed against them. This is usually done by prosecutors after a deadly shooting or severe beating is captured by video evidence that suggests unnecessary use of force.
The shooting of Antwon Rose made national headlines as an incident that demonstrates how quickly police will resort to lethal force in some situations. Officer Michael Rosfeld had been working as an East Pittsburgh Police officer for just hours before firing three shots at the 17 year old Rose, who was unarmed and running away when he was killed.
Deadly shooting by a rookie officer results in an acquittal
The situation began when Rose was riding in an unlicensed taxi that had just been involved in a drive by shooting. Officer Rosfeld noticed the damage to the windshield from the previous shooting and attempted to stop the car. Shortly after the traffic stop, Rose began to run away as the other passenger was detained. During this flight is when Officer Rosfeld used deadly force. Guns were later found in this car, but none were pointed at the officer when Rose was hit by three bullets. Another passenger in the car admitted responsibility for the initial shooting and took a guilty plea to aggravated assault and firearms violations. There was also a video of the shooting, which would normally tend to prove the officer’s guilt.
At the trial, a defense expert for the police testified that the use of lethal force would be permitted in such a situation, based on the lack of other officers on the scene and inability to wait for backup in a hostile environment. Based on this testimony and all of the other evidence presented, a jury acquitted the officer after four hours of deliberations on the final day of the trial. Protests began in the streets nearby shortly after the verdict was released.
The limitations of criminal cases against police
The acquittal of this officer shows the shortcomings of the criminal justice system when it comes to providing a remedy for police misconduct. While proof beyond all reasonable doubt is a high standard for all criminal cases, when police officers are involved it can be even harder to prove criminal intent because the officers are given the authority to use force. This makes criminal convictions against officers very rare, and prosecutors do not even bother to file the initial charges in many situations because cops are given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to using force in most situations.
The best alternative for the family of the deceased young man will be to file a civil lawsuit related to the same incident. The lower burden of proof in civil cases along with the possibility of financial settlements means that Rose’s family is much more like to receive some measure of justice from the civil system, even if it is the form of payments based on their son’s fatal injuries. The result of a criminal case against an officer does not affect the ability to proceed with a civil case based on the same incident. This means that a lawsuit can be filed to compensate his surviving family members for Rose’s future earning potential, as well as the emotional pain and suffering they have endured throughout this process.
Get legal help in Pittsburgh now
If you have been shot or injured by the police, a lawyer can speak with you can give professional advice about how to proceed with a lawsuit or other actions against the department. There are lawyers who specialize in police brutality cases in Pittsburgh and nearby parts of Pennsylvania.