PITTSBURGH — The attorney for a Pennsylvania officer charged in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager as he fled a traffic stop asked the judge in the case Tuesday if he would be willing to recuse himself.
Attorney Patrick Thomassey, who represents East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld, asked Judge Anthony Mariani during a pre-trial hearing to recuse himself because of comments he made on a cable news program about whether the shooting was justified. The comments were made before he was assigned to the case. Thomassey said Mariani used language suggesting that the bystander video of the incident might show the shooting wasn’t justified and saying the officer might have shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose Jr. out of frustration.
Mariani said Tuesday that he was able to be fair and was inclined to stay on the case, but he set a hearing date for Sept. 21 if Thomassey wanted to make a formal motion to have him removed. Thomassey did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday.
Rosfeld, 30, is charged with criminal homicide in the June shooting death of Rose as he fled a traffic stop. The officer was charged after investigators said his story about whether he saw or believed he saw a gun in Rose’s hand changed during his interview.
Thomassey made the argument Tuesday that Rosfeld was justified in firing his weapon because he believed the teen had a gun.
The car Rose was a passenger in, and which was later determined to be a jitney, was stopped because it matched the description of a vehicle involved in a drive-by shooting that happened a few minutes earlier in a neighboring town to East Pittsburgh. Prosecutors have said Rose was not armed and was not involved in that shooting.
Rose was shot in the back, elbow and jaw as he fled. Witnesses recorded portions of the shooting and posted it to social media.
Thomassey indicated in court Tuesday that he also plans to file a motion to have the jury selection take place in a different county because of the wide amount of publicity the case has received.
The shooting led to days of protests including a late-night march that shut down a portion of a major highway.
A trial date was set for Feb. 26, 2019, which would be faster than the 12 to 18 months an average homicide case takes to reach a jury in Allegheny County.