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East Pittsburgh Police Officer Charged With Homicide In Shooting Of Teenager

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A white police officer fatally shot a black teenager in East Pittsburgh last week. Today, the Allegheny County district attorney charged that officer with homicide. An-Li Herring of member station WESA explains what led to today's charges and why protesters say prosecutors haven't gone far enough.

AN-LI HERRING, BYLINE: Officer Michael Rosfeld was charged with homicide one week after Antwon Rose Jr. climbed into the front passenger seat of a car with two other men. Shortly afterward, police say, a passenger in the backseat exchanged gunfire with a man on the street, wounding him.

Minutes later, the car drove into East Pittsburgh, a small municipality outside the city of Pittsburgh. Rosfeld pulled the car over, suspecting it had been involved in the drive by. As Rosfeld detained the driver, Antwon and another passenger fled the vehicle. Police say Rosfeld fired at Antwon three times and hit him in the nose, cheek, elbow and back. District Attorney Stephen Zappala says Rose was unarmed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEPHEN ZAPPALA: We took a statement from Rosfeld. He's on audio and video. He indicates that at no time was there a weapon in play.

HERRING: Zappala says the fact that Officer Rosfeld believed Rose was unarmed is a significant factor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZAPPALA: He was not acting to prevent death or serious bodily injury.

HERRING: Zappala says there's no way Rosfeld can justify the shooting at trial. The officer faces a single charge of criminal homicide. In Pennsylvania, criminal homicide is a general charge that covers offenses ranging from manslaughter to first-degree murder. Zappala says a jury will decide on a specific degree.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZAPPALA: The evidence supports third-degree murder. There's no doubt about that in my mind - manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter. But we think we should have the right to argue murder in the first degree. But some, like activist Brandi Fisher, say that's not enough.

BRANDI FISHER: It's one thing to get a charge. It's another thing to get a conviction. And so we're not stopping. We're going to keep pressing.

HERRING: Zappala's decision to charge Rosfeld followed a week of almost daily protests. Hundreds of demonstrators shut down a major highway just outside of Pittsburgh for hours last week. They disrupted rush-hour traffic two other days. Zappala says he didn't feel pressured by the community to bring charges, which may be just as well.

The day before he announced them, activist Jasiri X told a crowd gathered outside the district attorney's office protests would continue, even if charges were filed. Like Fisher, he said a charge is not the same as a conviction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JASIRI X: This is a referendum on District Attorney Stephen Zappala.

HERRING: Activists are glad Zappala has filed charges, but they remain wary of the justice system to police its own. Rosfeld was able to go home a few hours after being arraigned Wednesday morning. A judge let him go with a $250,000 unsecured bond, meaning he wasn't asked for money upfront. Prosecutors objected but say they won't challenge that decision.

For NPR News, I'm An-Li Herring in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.