Killing of Rayshard Brooks

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Killing of Rayshard Brooks
Devin Brosnan's body camera recorded police officer Garrett Rolfe questioning Rayshard Brooks in a restaurant parking lot shortly before Rolfe shot Brooks.
Image from Devin Brosnan's bodycam showing Rayshard Brooks (left) and Garrett Rolfe
DateJune 12, 2020; 12 months ago (2020-06-12)
Time11:23 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-4)
LocationAtlanta, Georgia, United States
Coordinates33°43′18.4″N 84°23′31.3″W / 33.721778°N 84.392028°W / 33.721778; -84.392028Coordinates: 33°43′18.4″N 84°23′31.3″W / 33.721778°N 84.392028°W / 33.721778; -84.392028
Charges

On the night of June 12, 2020, Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old African American man, was fatally shot by Atlanta Police Department (APD) officer Garrett Rolfe.

APD officer Devin Brosnan was responding to a complaint that a man (Brooks) was asleep in a car blocking a Wendy's restaurant drive-through lane. At the scene, Brosnan radioed for assistance, and Rolfe arrived some minutes later. Rolfe conducted a breathalyzer exam which indicated that Brooks's blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit for driving.

Rolfe and Brosnan began to handcuff Brooks, and Brooks grabbed Brosnan's taser and attempted to run away. Rolfe pursued Brooks on foot, and Brooks turned and fired the taser toward Rolfe's head. Rolfe then fired his weapon three times at Brooks, hitting him twice from behind. A third shot struck an occupied car. Brooks died after surgery.

Footage of the incident, recorded from the officers' bodycams, a witness's phone and the restaurant's security system, was widely broadcast. Police chief Erika Shields resigned one day later; that same day, Rolfe was fired and Brosnan was placed on administrative duty. Rolfe was charged with felony murder and ten other offenses; Brosnan with aggravated assault and two counts of violation of oath.

On May 5, 2021, the Civil Service Board of the City of Atlanta reinstated Rolfe with back pay, after finding that the City of Atlanta did not afford him his right to due process.[1][2]

People involved[edit]

Rayshard Brooks was a 27-year-old African American restaurant worker who lived in Atlanta.[3] He had been married eight years and had three daughters and a stepson.[4][5] In August of 2014, he was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison on four counts, including false imprisonment and felony cruelty to children. [6] Two years later he was sentenced to an additional 12 months for violating his probation.[7] In a February 2020 interview, Brooks discussed the two years he spent in prison and his difficulties after being released, such as difficulty finding work.[8][7] A driving under the influence conviction or drug possession conviction could have led to revocation of his probation and a return to prison.[9][10][11]

Garrett Rolfe had been a police officer in the Atlanta Police Department since 2013. He was part of APD units specializing in DUI enforcement.[12] In 2016, he received a written reprimand for aiming his gun at a stolen car being pursued. A firearm was later recovered from the stolen car.[13] In May 2019, he was honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for making more than 50 DUI arrests the previous year.[12] In early 2020, he undertook training in the use of deadly force and in de-escalation.[12]

Devin Brosnan has been an Atlanta police officer since 2018.[14]

Death[edit]

External video
video icon Brosnan's body camera on YouTube (Rolfe moves to handcuff Brooks at 43:00)
video icon Rolfe's body camera on YouTube (Rolfe moves to handcuff Brooks at 29:00)
video icon Witness video of Brooks, Rolfe, and Brosnan struggling on YouTube
video icon Security camera video showing Rolfe shooting Brooks and subsequent events on YouTube

At 10:42 p.m. on Friday, June 12, 2020, Atlanta Police Department officer Devin Brosnan arrived at the Wendy's restaurant at 125 University Avenue in South Atlanta to investigate a report of a man (Brooks) asleep in a car which was blocking the drive-through lane.[15][16] Brosnan awakened Brooks and told him to move the car to a parking space and take a nap; Brooks fell asleep again without moving the car. Brosnan again woke Brooks and Brooks parked the car. Brosnan checked Brooks's driver's license and radioed for assistance from an officer certified to conduct driving under the influence investigations.[17][18]

Officer Garrett Rolfe arrived at 10:56[15] and, with Brooks's permission, performed a pat-down search for weapons, a field sobriety test, and a breathalyzer test.[19] Brooks appeared impaired[20][21] and was confused about where he was.[22] He said he had had one to one-and-a-half drinks[12] and denied driving[16] or being too drunk to drive.[15] The Breathalyzer registered a blood alcohol level of 0.108%, above the legal limit of 0.08%.[12] Brooks asked to leave his car in the parking lot overnight and walk to his sister's house a short distance away.[23] Up to this point, news outlets have characterized Brooks as relaxed,[16] friendly,[17] and cooperative.[21]

At 11:23,[16] Rolfe told Brooks: "All right, I think you've had too much to drink to be driving. Put your hands behind your back for me";[19] he and Brosnan then moved behind Brooks to handcuff him.[14] Brooks tried to break free and he and the officers scuffled on the ground. During the struggle Brosnan drew his taser, but Brooks wrested it from him and fired it;[24] Brosnan says the taser contacted him and he struck his head on the pavement, causing a concussion.[20] Brooks stood up and punched Rolfe, who drew his own taser and fired both cartridges at Brooks with no effect.[21] Brooks fled through the parking lot with Brosnan's taser still in hand. While still running, Brooks glanced back, half-turned, and fired the second shot of Brosnan's taser  – capable of two shots before being reloaded[22] – at Rolfe's head.[15][23]

According to prosecutors, Brooks and Rolfe were 18 feet (5.5 m) apart[25][a] when Rolfe dropped his taser, drew his handgun[15] and shot Brooks once in the midback and once in the buttocks;[27] prosecutors allege the third shot struck a nearby vehicle, narrowly missing its three occupants.[21][24] Disputed by Rolfe's attorneys,[28] and contrary to GBI findings,[11] prosecutors claimed Rolfe then said "I got him".[20][26]

Two minutes after Brooks was shot Rolfe appeared to unroll a bandage and place it on Brooks's torso. Seven minutes after Brooks was shot, an ambulance arrived and he was taken to the hospital, where he died following surgery.[15] Brosnan was treated for a concussion.[29]

Employment actions[edit]

The next day, Rolfe was fired and Brosnan was placed on administrative duty.[12] On August 4, Rolfe's attorneys filed a lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Acting Police Chief Rodney Bryant for unlawful dismissal, seeking Rolfe's reinstatement, along with back pay and benefits.[30][31]

On May 5, 2021, Rolfe’s firing was reversed and he was reinstated to the Atlanta Police Department with back pay, the Atlanta Civil Service Board finding he “was not afforded his right to due process.”[32][2]

Prosecution[edit]

Following standard procedure, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) opened an investigation.[33] The county medical examiner ruled Brooks' death a homicide.[34]

On June 17, 2020, while the GBI investigation was still ongoing, Paul Howard, the Fulton County District Attorney (DA), announced eleven charges against Rolfe: felony murder, five counts of aggravated assault, four police oath violations, and damage to property.[35] Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and two counts of violation of oath.[36][37] Howard argued the taser Brooks had taken posed no danger, as after being fired twice it could not fire again; that Rolfe and Brosnan did not provide timely medical aid to Brooks for over two minutes; and alleged that Rolfe kicked him and Brosnan stood on his shoulders;[26] and that it was a violation of department policy for Rolfe to begin handcuffing Brooks before telling him he was being arrested.[20][24]

Contrary to assertions by DA Howard, the subsequent investigation by the GBI lead to findings, among others that were not disclosed, that Brooks was under the influence of illicit drugs and alcohol including cocaine, a prescription sedative, and eutylone (based on a toxicology report) contrary to Howard's statement that Brooks was only “slightly impaired”, contrary to Howard's accusation, that Rolfe did render timely medical aid to Brooks after the shooting, that the illegal drugs methamphetamine and eutylone were found in the car Brooks was driving (Brooks was on probation, and an arrest for drug possession - besides a DUI conviction - could have resulted in a return to prison), that there were no witnesses to confirm Howard’s claim that Rolfe exclaimed “I got him” after shooting Brooks, and that Rolfe did not kick Brooks, as Howard alleged.[11]

Brosnan was released on June 18 after posting a $50,000 signature bond.[38] Around June 18, the Georgia Law Enforcement Organization, a law enforcement nonprofit, began raising funds for Rolfe to pay his legal fees, raising $500,000 by August 13.[39][40][41] Rolfe was released on July 1 on a $500,000 bond with conditions.[42][43]

On or about July 14, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr requested that the GBI widen its investigation into the Fulton County DA's office, headed by Howard, to determine whether grand jury subpoenas seeking information about Rolfe were legally issued. Howard was already the subject of a GBI investigation concerning his use of a nonprofit to funnel almost $200,000 of city funds into his personal bank account.[44][45]

On July 20, Rolfe's attorney filed a motion seeking to have DA Howard recused from the Rolfe prosecution on the basis that he would be called as a necessary witness by the defense to answer regarding statements he made that the attorney alleged were “ethically inappropriate" and actions that allegedly "systematically sought to deprive Garrett Rolfe of a fair trial and impartial jury."[44]

During the week of August 2, the DA's office applied to obtain a search warrant to gain information about the fundraising site set up for Rolfe, attempting to obtain information including on who had established the site, how much money had been raised, and where the money went, representing it wanted the information to support a possible bond violation charge. One of Rolfe's attorneys condemned the request stating, "...he [DA Howard] sought to uncover the private information of Americans who donated to Garrett Rolfe’s defense because they believed in his innocence." Subsequently, a judge denied the warrant application.[41]

On August 4, the day Rolfe's attorneys filed the lawsuit for reinstatement, the DA's office filed a motion to revoke Rolfe's bond, alleging that Rolfe had traveled to Florida without permission.[46][30][31] Rolfe's attorneys filed a response with the court stating the bond conditions neither placed Rolfe on house arrest/home confinement, nor was he prohibited from traveling out of state, and that they had, as a courtesy, notified prosecutors of his travel via email prior to traveling.[47] On August 12, the presiding judge refused to revoke Rolfe's bond, but amended it prohibiting out of state travel.[48] Rolfe's firing was reversed and he was reinstated to the Atlanta Police Department with back pay on May 5, 2021.[32][2]

On August 12, 2020, Howard was defeated in his bid for re-election by Fani Willis.[49] After losing the Democratic Primary, Howard remained in office until his term expired in January. In the meantime both officers remained out on bond. Upon taking office in January, Willis formally petitioned Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to take over the case from her office. Willis stated that her investigation showed her predecessor‘s decision to prosecute the officers involved may have been politically motivated and involved violations of the rules of ethics lawyers are required to follow by the Georgia Bar Association.[50] Under Georgia state law, the AG is afforded broad discretion in appointing a stand-in prosecutor if the situation arises. In February, Carr rejected Willis’ request in letter, stating “it appears abundantly clear that your office is not disqualified from these cases by interest or relationship.”[51]

Attorneys for the Brooks family voiced disappointment both with Willis’ request and Carr’s refusal to appoint a replacement prosecutor who would take the case more “seriously.”[52] Carr’s decision came as a surprise, and subsequently Willis moved forward with and attempt to recuse herself from the case and attorneys for the Rolfe moved to dismiss the charges against their client.[53] It was reported on March 1 that Willis had petitioned for the trial judge to either appoint a new prosecutor or authorize her office to hire a replacement prosecutor.[54]

Reactions[edit]

Memorial for Brooks at the place of his death

Demonstrators gathered at the site of the shooting beginning June 12.[55] On June 13, protesters set fire to the Wendy's restaurant outside which Brooks was shot as well as several nearby cars, and broke a television camera.[56][57][58] Natalie White, believed to be Brooks' girlfriend, was charged with first-degree arson in connection with the restaurant fire.[59] Protests continued in the area around the Wendy's, there were problems with armed protesters closing adjacent streets with barriers, and on July 4 an 8-year-old girl was killed when the car she was riding in was shot at by demonstrators.[60]

On June 13, Atlanta's police chief Erika Shields resigned; Mayor Bottoms said Shields had resigned in the hope that "the city may move forward with urgency and [rebuild] the trust so desperately needed throughout our communities."[61][62][63] On June 15, Mayor Bottoms ordered the Atlanta Police Department to overhaul its use-of-force policies.[64] On January 6, 2021 it was announced Shields would become the new Chief of Police for the Louisville, Kentucky police department.[65]

Beginning the day after charges against Rolfe were announced, Atlanta police officers called in sick for their shifts, staging a "blue flu" protest.[66][67][68] In the four days from June 17 to 20, about 170 officers called in sick and officers in 3 out of the city's 6 police zones did not respond to calls.[69] On the evening of June 19 every police officer failed to report for duty in Zone 5, leaving only the three supervisors.[70] Atlanta's Acting Police Chief Bryant said that the department had "to shift resources to ensure proper coverage" due to police absenteeism.[71] Total arrests citywide dropped by 71% during the sickout.[72] Mayor Bottoms said the sickout was a reaction to two weeks of strife during which eight APD officers were criminally charged in two separate incidents, sinking morale "ten-fold."[25][73] On June 18, the Atlanta Police Foundation, a private nonprofit group, announced that all APD officers would receive a one-time $500 bonus for continuing to work through the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent George Floyd protests.[74][75]

On July 6, police and sanitation workers began to remove the memorial to Brooks at the place of his death.[76] The burned Wendy's was demolished.[77]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Tasers have a range of about 15 feet (4.6 m).[26]

References[edit]

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  52. ^ Id.
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