(Reuters) – An East Pittsburgh police officer was charged on Wednesday with homicide in last week’s shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, the latest in a string of U.S. police killings of black men that have sparked nationwide protests, court papers showed.
The officer, 30-year-old Michael Rosfeld, surrendered to face a single criminal count for the June 19 shooting death of 17-year-old Antwon Rose, which occurred as the officer was searching for suspects after a drive-by shooting that wounded one.
Video of the incident that showed two men running away from a car that had been stopped by police, and falling to the ground amid the sound of gunfire, sparked outrage and several nights of protests in the western Pennsylvania city.
The United States has seen repeated waves of protests following police killings of black men in cities including Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore and North Charleston, South Carolina. The killings fueled a national debate about racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system.
Few of the officers who have faced charges for the killings have been convicted as U.S. laws give police officers broad powers to use deadly force when they believe their lives or the lives of others are in danger.
The fatal shooting occurred after Rosfeld and other officers stopped a car while searching for suspects in the drive-by shooting. Prosecutors said in court papers that Rosfeld initially told them he saw a person emerge from the car, holding something he believed could have been a gun, but later told investigators he was not sure what the object was.
A second person who had been in the car with Rose, 17-year-old Zaijuan Hester, was charged by Allegheny County police on Wednesday with several crimes, including criminal attempted homicide, in connection with the drive-by shooting, according to court documents.
Rose’s family views the charging of Rosfeld with “guarded optimism,” their attorney, Lee Merritt, said.
“We realize that conviction is a long road ahead and it will require our continued advocacy on behalf of Antwon,” Merritt said in a statement to Pittsburgh’s WTAE-TV.
Rosfeld’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, told Pittsburgh’s WPXI television that the officer turned himself in early Wednesday and was released on an unsecured bond of $250,000. Thomassey did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.
Former North Charleston, South Carolina, policeman Michael Slager was sentenced in December to 20 years in prison for shooting an unarmed black man following a traffic stop.
Reporting by Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Tom Brown