Officers will not be charged in Rayshard Brooks shooting

TOMORROW, Georgia — Two white Atlanta police officers who clashed with Rayshard Brooks acted reasonably during the 2020 encounter that ended with the fatal shooting of the 27-year-old black man, a specially appointed prosecutor said Tuesday when announcing his decision not to charge to submit them.

Officer Garrett Rolfe, who shot and killed Brooks in June 2020, and Officer Devin Brosnan faced a “rapidly evolving” situation when Brooks tripped and grabbed one of their tasers during an attempted arrest, said Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

“We didn’t look at this 20/20 in retrospect. Given the rapidly changing circumstances, was it objectively reasonable for him to use lethal force? And we conclude that it was,” Skandalakis said of Rolfe.

The shooting took place amid heightened tensions and protests across the country following the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer less than three weeks earlier. The sometimes violent protests over Floyd’s death had largely died down in Atlanta, but Brooks’ murder sparked another series of demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice.

Skandalakis said he believes context is important and acknowledged that encounters between the police and the African American community are sometimes “very fleeting”, but he said he does not believe race played a role in this case.

“This is not one of those cases,” he said. “This is a case where the officers were willing to give Mr. Brooks every benefit of the doubt and, you know, unfortunately this has happened through his actions.”

On June 12, 2020, police responded to complaints from a man sleeping in a car in the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s restaurant. Police CCTV footage shows the two officers having a quiet conversation with Brooks for about 40 minutes.

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When officers told Brooks he had had too much to drink to drive and attempted to arrest him, Brooks resisted a struggle that was captured on dash cam video. Brooks grabbed a taser from one of the officers and fled, running toward Rolfe. Rolfe fired his pistol and an autopsy revealed Brooks was shot twice in the back.

Police Chief Erika Shields resigned less than 24 hours after Brooks’ death and protesters set fire to the Wendy’s, which was later demolished.

L. Chris Stewart, a Brooks family lawyer, said on Tuesday that Brooks should not have fought the officers and that if they had used deadly force during that fight, they would have been fully justified.

“But they didn’t. They did not. They chose not to when they were justified. But they decided to use lethal force when a man ran away – six meters away,” he said.

He and his law partner, Justin Miller, noted that prosecutors said they would need to hire experts and split the meeting video frame by video frame to reach a decision. Something so complicated should have been presented to a grand jury of Fulton County citizens to decide whether the charges were justified, the family’s attorneys said.

Stewart said the family will continue its fight for justice in civil court, where they have a lawsuit pending.

The lawyers for the two officers have said their actions were justified.

“This was the right and only decision that could be made based on the evidence and law of Georgia,” Brosnan’s attorneys Don Samuel and Amanda Clark Palmer said in an emailed statement.

Attorneys Noah H. Pines, Bill Thomas and Lance LoRusso said Rolfe will not make a statement at this time.

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Skandalakis and former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who was a co-lawyer on the case, spent about an hour during the press conference going through the details of the meeting between Brooks and the two officers. Porter showed stills from videos to analyze what happened when things got violent.

Skandalakis called it “a peaceful encounter that suddenly turns violent,” and said that after Brooks captured Brosnan’s Taser, he took an offensive position.

Porter said Brooks “beat up the shit” on the two officers after Rolfe’s lawful attempt to arrest him. Rolfe acted in accordance with Georgia law and Atlanta Police Department policy given the facts of the situation, he said.

“The police did not come warm in this encounter,” he said. “There was no animosity.”

Rolfe was fired a day after the shooting, but his dismissal was overturned by the Atlanta Civil Service Board in May 2021. The council found that the city did not follow its own procedures for disciplinary action.

Five days after Brooks was murdered, then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard held a dramatic press conference to announce that arrest warrants had been issued against Rolfe and Brosnan. Rolfe’s charges include murder, aggravated assault and breach of his oath. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath.

Skandalakis said Tuesday he would file paperwork to reject those warrants. He declined to comment when asked if Howard had rushed the charges.

The Atlanta Police Department said in a statement that both officers have administrative duties and will undergo training and recertification.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who was a city councilman when the shooting took place, said in a statement his “heart continues to aches” for Brooks’s family, but he respects the “independent role” played by the special counsel.

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Two months after he announced the indictment, Howard lost the Democratic primary in his bid for reelection. Just weeks after taking office in January 2021, his successor, Fani Willis, asked Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr to reassign the case, citing concerns about Howard’s actions.

Willis has since received national attention for her ongoing investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence the outcome of Georgia’s 2020 election.

Carr initially refused to reassign the case, but in July 2021 appointed Skandalakis to take over the case after a judge apologized to Willis and her office.

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