‘Stop fighting!’ Atlanta sobriety test quickly turned deadly
One minute, Rayshard Brooks was chatting cooperatively with Atlanta police, saying he’d had a couple of drinks to celebrate his daughter’s birthday and agreeing to a breath test. The next, they were wrestling on the ground and grappling over a Taser before Brooks took the weapon and ran.
Seconds later, three gunshots sounded, and Brooks fell, mortally wounded.
Atlanta police video shows a seemingly routine sobriety check outside a Wendy’s restaurant quickly spinning out of control and ending in gunfire. The killing of the 27-year-old Black man in an encounter with two white officers late Friday rekindled fiery protests in Atlanta and prompted the police chief’s resignation.
Police said the department terminated Officer Garrett Rolfe, who fired the fatal shots, and placed officer Devin Brosnan on administrative duty. Rolfe had worked for the department since October 2013; Brosnan since September 2018.
Meanwhile, authorities announced a $10,000 reward Sunday for information regarding those responsible for setting fire to the Wendy’s at the shooting scene. Flames gutted the restaurant late Saturday.
Police said protests over the killing prompted 36 arrests.
Rolfe and Brosnan’s body cameras and the dash-mounted cameras in their patrol cars showed they spent more than 40 minutes peacefully questioning Brooks. The fighting erupted when they tried to handcuff Brooks.
Andy Harvey, chief of police of Ennis, Texas, who has written books and developed training on community policing, said such moments can turn “in just a split second.”
“The moment you put your hands on someone is when someone will decide whether to comply or resist,” Harvey said. “That’s what happened in Atlanta.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating and will present its findings to prosecutors, who will decide whether either officer will face criminal charges.
The officers were called over complaints of a car blocking the restaurant’s drive-through lane. Brosnan arrived first and found Brooks alone in the car, apparently asleep. Brooks agreed to move the car and showed his driver’s license. Rolfe arrived minutes later to conduct a sobriety check.
“I know you’re just doing your job,” Brooks says on the video after consenting to a breath test. He mentions celebrating his daughter’s birthday and says, “I just had a few drinks, that’s all.”
Rolfe doesn’t tell Brooks the results of the breath test, though his body camera recorded a digital readout of 0.108 — higher than the blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams considered too intoxicated to drive under Georgia law.
“All right, I think you’ve had too much to drink to be driving,” Rolfe tells Brooks. “Put your hands behind your back.”
The video shows each officer take hold of one of Brooks’ wrists as Rolfe tries to handcuff him. Brooks tries to run, and the officers take him to the ground.
“Stop fighting!” one officer yells.
One of the dash cameras recorded the brawl. As Brooks fights to stand, Brosnan presses a Taser to his leg and threatens to stun him. Brooks grabs the Taser and pulls it away. He struggles to his feet, the Taser in his hand, and starts running.
Rolfe fires his Taser, and a yelp can be heard above the weapon’s electric crackle. Rolfe runs after Brooks, and seconds later three gunshots sound.
Both officers’ body cameras were knocked to the ground in the struggle, and none of the four police cameras captured the shooting. Footage released from a Wendy’s security camera showed Brooks turn and point an object in his hand at one of the officers who is steps behind him. The officer draws his gun and fires.
“As I pursued him, he turned and started firing the taser at me,” Rolfe told a supervisor after the shooting, in a videotaped conversation. “... He definitely did shoot it at me at least once.”
GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said Sunday she could not confirm whether Brooks fired the Taser.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Saturday she doesn’t believe the shooting was justified. Police Chief Erika Shields, who joined the department as a beat officer in 1995, resigned.
Brooks’ death at the hands of police inflamed raw emotions in Atlanta and across the U.S. following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“The question is, when the suspect turned to fire the Taser, what should the officer have done?” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, said Brooks’ death “is certainly a far less clear one than the ones that we saw with George Floyd and several other ones.”
Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic lawmaker who gained national prominence with her 2018 bid for Georgia governor, said “there’s a legitimacy to this outrage” over Brooks’ death.
L. Chris Stewart, an attorney for Brooks’ family, said the officer who shot him should be charged for “an unjustified use of deadly force, which equals murder.”
Stewart said that Brooks, a father of four, on Friday had celebrated the eighth birthday of one of his daughters.
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