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Bronx Shooting Sparks Mother’s Crusade Against Cops

August 6, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ Margarita Rosario went ahead with her idea even though people told her it was crazy.

She bought white adhesive letters and turned her car into a mobile tombstone, inscribing the back with the words that now define her life: ANTHONY ROSARIO _ KILLED BY COPS.

``I still wish the letters were bigger,″ she said last week.

Thanks largely to Rosario’s determination to publicize her outrage, the story of the police shooting of her son during an alleged armed robbery _ found justified by a grand jury four months ago _ won’t go away.

Last week, a civilian police review board concluded that detectives used unnecessary force.

Rosario, 40, a truant officer, contends that two detectives ordered her 18-year-son and his older cousin to lay face down, then executed them while they begged for mercy.

On Wednesday, the Rosario family filed a $100 million wrongful death suit against the city and the Police Department.

Their strongest piece of evidence: medical examiner’s findings that Anthony and his cousin, Hilton Vega, 21, were hit with a barrage of bullets, all in the side or back, some fired while they were on the ground.

Rosario’s persistence has helped generate more outrage than other examples of excessive force allegations in the Bronx, said civil rights activist Richard Perez.

For example, the case of Anthony Baez, who was allegedly choked to death by an officer after accidentally hitting a patrol car with a football, has received far less attention, although that officer was indicted in March on a charge of negligent homicide.

``It’s the involvement of the family that supplies the moral power to make people listen,″ Perez said. ``Margarita is out there 120 percent.″

Life once was more quiet for Rosario, her husband Antonio and their three sons.

Anthony, the middle son, dropped out of school and worked a string of restaurant jobs. But his rakish good looks earned him work as a movie extra and made him popular with girls.

His mother insists that in a neighborhood where teen-agers often find trouble, he avoided it _ until Jan. 12.

That night, the family says, Anthony agreed to help Vega collect money owed to Vega’s girlfriend by Jorge Rodriguez. Rodriguez, meanwhile, told police the men had robbed him the night before and threatened to return.

When the cousins and a third man, Freddie Bonilla, 18, banged on the door of the Rodriguez apartment, detectives Patrick Brosman and James Crowe were waiting inside with guns drawn.

According to the police account, the visitors all were armed. The officers said they saw Anthony go for a gun, before they fired a total of 28 shots. Rosario and Vega, who never shot back, died at the scene. Bonilla survived with an ankle wound.

Rosario hired a lawyer, filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board and formed a support group called Parents Against Police Brutality.

She’s labeled the detectives murderers and alleges a department cover-up, though offering only vague, conspiratorial theories for a motive.

After she and others heckled Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton, Bratton struck back, saying they were acting like ``fools.″

Bratton, who has criticized the civilian review board in the past, said he would not bother looking at its report of unnecessary force until federal prosecutors complete a separate review.

Meanwhile, Rosario says the slogan will remain on her car.

``I still talk to Anthony,″ she said. ``He’s encouraging me to do this.″

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