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Atlanta board revokes dismissal of officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks

A police officer talks to a man.
Officer Garrett Rolfe and Rayshard Brooks in an image taken from police body-cam video on June 12, 2020, in Atlanta.
(Atlanta Police Department)

The former Atlanta police officer who faces murder charges for fatally shooting Rayshard Brooks in the back after he resisted arrest and grabbed an officer’s Taser was reinstated Wednesday after the Atlanta Civil Service Board ruled that the city wrongly terminated him.

Garrett Rolfe, a white officer who faces 11 charges including multiple counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and violation of oath by an officer, was terminated by the city within 24 hours of shooting Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, in June.

Rolfe will not go back on his beat. According to the Atlanta Police Department, he will remain on administrative leave until the criminal charges are resolved. His reinstatement, which comes two weeks after a jury found former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, guilty of murdering George Floyd, who was Black, does not affect the criminal trial.

In its ruling, the Civil Service Board, which is made up of Atlanta residents who are recommended by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, noted that it dealt only with whether the city followed its code when abruptly firing Rolfe — not whether his behavior was criminal.

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City officials, the board contended, departed from protocol in not providing Rolfe with written notice of his proposed termination at least 10 days before or sending him a notice of emergency action and allowing him a chance to respond.

“Due to the City’s failure to comply with several provisions of the Code and the information received during witnesses’ testimony, the Board concludes the Appellant was not afforded his right to due process,” the board said in a written order. “Therefore, the Board grants the Appeal of Garrett Rolfe and revokes his dismissal as an employee of the APD.”

Chris Stewart, an attorney who represents Brooks’ family, said the decision reflected badly on the city of Atlanta as a haven of civil rights.

“We find it mind-boggling that our elected officials and the former chief weren’t aware of the proper procedure to fire an officer,” Stewart said. “Was that done to temporarily pacify the protesters and people around the world that were upset?

“African Americans in this country, when it comes to civil rights, don’t want temporary pacification,” he said. “They want justice.”

Activists across metro Atlanta were disappointed by the decision.

“It sends a very bad message,” said Gerald Griggs, an Atlanta attorney and civil rights activist. “Average citizens who are charged with murder don’t go back to work. They wait for the process to play itself out — either in custody or on bond — and then after there’s a determination made criminally, then the civil matter proceeds. This is backwards.”

Griggs said he was hopeful that city officials would appeal to the Fulton County Superior Court and that the court would uphold the termination. The board’s decision, he said, further illustrated the need for a systemic change in policing.

“It needs to be addressed, on the local, state and federal level: how we can make the laws apply equally to citizens, as well as law enforcement, that are charged with serious offenses,” he said.

In a statement, the Atlanta Police Department emphasized that the board did not rule on whether Rolfe had violated department policies and said it would assess whether additional investigative actions were needed.

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The back-and-forth over Rolfe highlights the immense political pressure that Atlanta city officials faced over policing as protests broke out last summer after the killing of Floyd.

First, they were criticized for not doing more to prevent widespread damage to property after protests against Floyd’s murder broke out across the city. Then they were criticized after a viral video showed Atlanta officers shattering the windows of a sedan and using Tasers on two Black college students.

The encounter between Brooks and officers — which was documented on police body cameras, surveillance videos and witnesses’ cellphones — began the night of June 12 when two officers, Devin Brosnan and Rolfe, were dispatched to a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant a few miles south of downtown Atlanta. They were responding to a 911 report that a man had fallen asleep in the drive-through line.

Body-cam video 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.

A video taken by a witness showed Brooks wrestling with the officers on the ground. During the struggle, he appeared to grab Brosnan’s Taser and punch Rolfe. Rolfe fired his Taser at Brooks, who then broke free and ran away across the parking lot.

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Surveillance camera video showed Rolfe reaching for his handgun as Brooks kept running, glancing behind him and appearing to fire the Taser in Rolfe’s direction. Rolfe fired his handgun three times at Brooks as he ran away.

The Fulton County medical examiner’s office said Brooks had two gunshot wounds in the back that resulted in organ injuries and blood loss.

Five days after the shooting, then-Fulton County Dist. Atty. Paul Howard charged Rolfe with felony murder — a charge that could result in the death penalty — arguing that Brooks never presented himself as a threat. In firing a Taser at Brooks while he was running away, Rolfe violated the department’s standard of practices, Howard said.

However, Fulton’s new district attorney, Fani Willis, has since sought to recuse her office from prosecuting the case, citing a conflict of interest because Howard acted so swiftly and publicly in charging the two officers. Her request was denied by Georgia Atty. Gen. Chris Carr, and a judge has yet to rule on who should handle the prosecution.

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