A year after the police shooting of Antwon Rose, this state rep. wants to change Pa.’s deadly force rule

By: - June 20, 2019 6:58 am

One year ago Wednesday, a police officer in Western Pennsylvania shot and killed an unarmed black teen as he ran from a traffic stop.

The death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose II spurred protests and promises from local and state lawmakers to reform law enforcement.

A year later, Rep. Summer Lee, a freshman Democrat who represents an area near where Rose died, has introduced legislation that would restrict when police officers can use deadly force.

Under current state law, a police officer may use deadly force “only when he believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury to himself or such other person, or when he believes both that:

  • such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape; and
  • the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony or is attempting to escape and possesses a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury unless arrested without delay.”

“It’s really long and quite vague right now,” Lee said of the statute to the Capital-Star.

The broad definition contributed to a jury’s not guilty verdict for ex-police officer Michael Rosfeld, who shot Rose three times in the back.

Lee’s bill would restrict the use of deadly force by police officers to instances where “they are protecting themselves or the general public against an immediate or imminent threat or bodily injury,” she said Wednesday.

Lee said that language mirrors the state law governing when average citizens may use deadly force to make a citizen’s arrest.

The bill‘s language was not available online as of Wednesday evening. Twenty-one lawmakers, all Democrats, were signed on as co-sponsors at that time.

After Rose’s death in June 2018, Pittsburghers took to the streets in protest. His death was quickly added to the list of other black Americans killed by police that has fueled the Black Lives Matter movement.

Lee said she received input from the state American Civil Liberties Union, the Abolitionist Law Center in Philadelphia, community groups such as the Pittsburgh-based Alliance for Police Accountability, Rose’s family, and Black Lives Matter activists while crafting the bill. Despite reaching out to the state Fraternal Order of Police — the union that represents local police officers — she said she never heard back.

“What I’d really like to see is what they’re genuine first reaction is, because I know the push back is gonna be, ‘Oh, well, this is anti-police,'” Lee said.

However, she contends her bill is neutral toward law enforcement: “At the end of the day, any good cop should want everybody to go home safely.”

“The goal of every police interaction should be to minimize loss of life,” Lee added.

A spokesperson for the state FOP said the union will review the legislation in the coming days.

On day 1, Lee’s bill is already facing a significant hurdle.

While House leadership has not assigned the legislation to a committee for review, the House Judiciary Committee typically handles all law enforcement and criminal bills. Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin has not seen the legislation, but said Wednesday “it is not something on the agenda.”

“The Judiciary Committee has no intention of taking up these use-of-force, policing bills,” Kauffman said. “I actually believe our law enforcement in Pennsylvania do a good job in policing.”

Lee compared the preemptive filibustering of her bill to that of other noted GOP Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, who famously said he blocks “all substantive Democrat legislation sent to my committee.”

“I think that’s a shame, and I look forward to having a conversation with his reasoning behind that one,” Lee said. “If that’s true that he said that, then he’s more resolute than the police officers.”

Lee’s legislation was first floated in April, as part of a larger package of policing reforms from Democrats. Other bills would reform police hiring practices, establish statewide training standards, and streamline policies to decertify officers.

Another bill would require the state attorney general to appoint special prosecutors to investigate any incident of deadly force by law enforcement.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.