Atlanta police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks charged with murder
The former Atlanta police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks in the back after he resisted arrest and ran off outside a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant will be charged with felony murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to a Georgia district attorney.
The former Atlanta police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks in the back after he resisted arrest and ran off outside a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant will be charged with felony murder, according to a Georgia district attorney.
Garrett Rolfe, 27, a white officer, was terminated within 24 hours of firing his handgun at Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man. He faces 11 charges in total, including multiple counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and violation of oath by an officer.
The maximum sentence for murder in Georgia is life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
“Mr. Brooks never presented himself as a threat,” said Paul Howard, the Fulton County district attorney.
Not only was Brooks calm and cordial before Rolfe sought to arrest him, Howard said, but Rolfe did not inform him that he was under arrest for driving under the influence.
In firing a taser at Brooks while he was running away, Howard said Rolfe violated the department’s standard of practices, which prohibits officers from firing tasers at someone running away.
“You certainly can’t fire a handgun at someone who is running away,” Howard said.
Rolfe and the other officer on the scene, Devin Brosnan, did not provide Brooks with timely medical attention after the shooting. And Rolfe actually kicked Brooks while he lay on the ground “fighting for his life,” Howard said, while Brosnan stood on Brooks’ shoulder.
“I felt everything that he felt just by hearing what he went through,” Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, said at a news conference with her attorneys.
“It hurt,” she said, tears rolling down her cheeks. “It hurt really bad.”
Howard, who is African American and running for reelection this year, said his office interviewed at least 10 witnesses and reviewed body camera and dashboard camera footage, surveillance video and citizens’ cellphone videos before deciding to bring charges.
Brosnan, who Howard said has agreed to become a cooperating witness for the state, is being charged with aggravated assault for standing on Brooks’ shoulder and two violations of his oath, for standing on Brooks’ shoulder and failure to render timely medical aid. Howard is recommending a bond of $50,000 for Brosnan and no bond for Rolfe.
Howard said Brosnan is the first officer in Fulton County he can remember testifying against a fellow officer.
However, after the news conference, Brosnan’s attorney, Donald Samuel, disputed the idea that Brosnan had agreed to be a state witness or admitted doing anything wrong.
“It’s absolutely untrue,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“The decision to initiate charges by the Fulton County D.A.’s office is irrational, unethical and obviously based on factors which should have nothing to do with the proper administration of justice,” he said in a statement.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, meanwhile, posted a pointed statement on Twitter noting that it was still in the process of investigating.
“Although we have made significant progress in the case, we have not completed our work,” the statement said. “The GBI was not aware of today’s press conference before it was conducted. We were not consulted on the charges filed by the district attorney. Despite today’s occurrence, the GBI will complete its mission of completing an impartial and thorough investigation of this incident and we will submit the file, once completed, to the Fulton County district attorney’s office.”
The shooting sparked protests across Atlanta last weekend after weeks of nationwide anger over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the nation’s long history of police brutality against Blacks. Within hours of Brooks’ death, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the resignation of the city’s police chief, Erika Shields. Protesters shut down lanes of a major interstate in downtown Atlanta and faced off with police in riot gear. By the end of the night, the Wendy’s had burned to the ground.
The attorneys who represent Rolfe released a statement shortly before the news conference, saying that Brooks’ death was tragic, but that Rolfe’s actions were justified because he had feared for his safety and the safety of civilians.
“Mr. Brooks violently attacked two officers and disarmed one of them,” the LoRusso Law Firm said in a statement. “When Mr. Brooks turned and pointed an object at Officer Rolfe, any officer would have reasonably believed that he intended to disarm, disable or seriously injure him.”
According to a disciplinary history report released by the Atlanta Police Department, Rolfe was reprimanded in 2017 for use of force involving a firearm. It was his only previous use-of-force complaint in his 6½ years with the department, although he had faced multiple reports of vehicle accidents, citizen complaints and a firearm discharge.
The incident began just after 10:30 p.m. Friday, when Rolfe and Brosnan were dispatched to the Wendy’s a few miles south of downtown to investigate a complaint that a man had fallen asleep in the drive-through line.
The encounter was initially peaceful. Police body cam footage showed that Brooks complied with Brosnan’s request to move his car from the drive-through line to a parking spot and agreed when Rolfe asked him to take a sobriety test. But after he failed the test, he appeared to resist when Rolfe tried to handcuff him.
The witness video shows Brooks wrestling with the officers on the ground. During the struggle, he appears to grab Brosnan’s Taser and punch Rolfe. Rolfe fires his Taser at Brooks, who then breaks free and runs away across the parking lot.
Rolfe gives chase and Brosnan follows. Surveillance camera footage from the Wendy’s shows Rolfe pass his Taser from his right hand to his left as he runs and then reaches for his handgun. Brooks keeps running, glancing behind him and appearing to fire the Taser in Rolfe’s direction. Rolfe fires his handgun three times at Brooks as he runs away.
On Sunday, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office declared Brooks’ death a homicide, saying he had two gunshot wounds in the back that resulted in organ injuries and blood loss.
On Monday, Mayor Bottoms described the killing as a “murder” as she announced a series of immediate reforms in police use-of-force policies that would require officers to employ deescalation techniques and use only “the amount of objectively reasonable force necessary to successfully protect themselves or others” or “to bring an incident under control.”
Officers, she said, will also be “duty-bound to intercede” when they see fellow officers apply unreasonable force.
“It is clear that we do not have another day, another minute, another hour to waste,” she said.
Some in law enforcement have argued that the officers’ conduct in the case is more ambiguous than in the George Floyd case because Brooks resisted arrest, grabbed an officer’s Taser and then fled, turning around at one point to deploy the Taser.
In Minneapolis, Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes when he was handcuffed and already restrained by multiple officers.
According to Georgia law, a person is justified in using deadly force “only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person.”
Vincent Champion, Southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, which represents more than 1,100 Atlanta officers, said police officers in Atlanta agreed that the killing of George Floyd was a crime.
“The police departments and officers that I represent, not one has said what happened to Mr. Floyd was just. It was a crime. And that officer deserves any and everything that he gets. We don’t train that way.”
Champion said he worried that the Atlanta officers were not getting due process and the charges in the Brooks case seemed politically motivated. He noted that Howard recently charged four officers with aggravated assault after a viral video showed a group of officers shattering the windows of a sedan and Tasing two Black college students inside.
“The D.A. says a Taser’s a deadly weapon,” he said. “Well, then it was a deadly weapon when Mr. Brooks pointed it at a police officer.”
After the conference, L. Chris Stewart, an attorney for the Brooks family, said no one was celebrating the fact that Howard had brought charges against both officers.
“Is this justice today? Not yet,” he said “It was more heartache that families have to go through this and fight ... to try and get justice for a man that was shot in the back twice.
“But we do thank everybody in this country for the outpouring of support.… Maybe one day this country will get right with policing.”
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