The Atlanta Police officer who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks at a Wendy’s parking lot last week was charged with felony murder and other charges, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced Wednesday.
The other police officer on scene also faces three charges, including aggravated assault, Howard said.
The decision comes just five days after Brooks was shot twice in the back in Atlanta during an attempted arrest. Officer Garrett Rolfe, who fired the fatal shots, has already been fired, and officer Devin Brosnan, who was also on scene, has been put on administrative duty.
Arrest warrants have been issued for the two and they were asked to surrender by Thursday.
The incident began when police responded to a report of a man sleeping in his car in the fast-food restaurant’s drive-through lane. After chatting calmly with the officers and failing a breathalyzer test, Brooks resisted arrest when officers moved to handcuff him for suspected drunken driving.
Video footage shows the three fighting on the ground before Brooks grabs an officer’s Taser and begins to run away. As the officers chase him, Brooks points the Taser over his shoulder at Rolfe, who then shoots him multiple times, the surveillance video shows. Brooks was struck twice in the back and died at a nearby hospital.
The police killing came amid nationwide protests calling for an end to racism and police violence against black people. Already, Rolfe has been fired, Brosnan was placed on administrative duty and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields stepped down from her position.
Brooks’ family members, who are preparing for the 27-year-old father’s funeral, say the two officers should have continued to pursue him as he ran away instead of shooting him. He leaves behind three daughters, who are 1, 2 and 8 years old, and a 13-year-old stepson.
But some law enforcement leaders say the shooting was justified and protected by Georgia law — which allows a person to use 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.”
Howard told CNN earlier this week the possible charges could include murder, felony murder or voluntary manslaughter.
“Specifically, (the question is if) Officer Rolfe, whether or not he felt that Mr. Brooks, at the time, presented imminent harm of death or some serious physical injury. Or the alternative is whether or not he fired the shot simply to capture him or some other reason,” Howard said.
“If that shot was fired for some reason other than to save that officer’s life or to prevent injury to him or others, then that shooting is not justified under the law.”
Legally justified or criminal?
Steven Gaynor, the president of the Cobb County Fraternal Order of Police, defended the shooting by saying Brooks posed a threat and had assaulted the officers as he was getting arrested.
“(Georgia law) specifically gives (the officer) the right based on the aggravated assaults and the threat (Brooks) poses to the public and to the officers there,” Gaynor said. “It specifically gives them by law the right to shoot him. (Brooks) chose to make those actions. He chose to to do what he did.”
More than 150 miles away from Atlanta, Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams also called the officers’ actions “completely justified.”
“There’s nothing malicious or sadistic in the way these officers behaved,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate that the law enforcement leaders in the state of Georgia have not come out and stood together on this case. I think it’s political and it’s senseless.”
However, some city officials and policing experts have said the incident did not have to escalate to a fatal shooting.
CNN law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey said the officers knew Brooks didn’t have a weapon — they patted him down earlier in their encounter — and could have continued to chase him and ask for backup.
“You’ve got the car. You’ve asked for his driver’s license. You know who he is. So even if you don’t get him right now, you can get him later,” Ramsey said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms described the killing as a “murder” on Monday. That description is a step further than her initial criticism last weekend in which she said this was not a justified shooting.
“While there may be debate as to whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, I firmly believe that there is a distinction between what you can do and what you should do,” Bottoms said then.
Part of the debate relies on the dangerousness of the Taser he took from one of the officers. The Taser is designed to be less lethal than a firearm, but it can be fatal in some circumstances.
Just two weeks ago, for example, Howard charged several Atlanta Police officers with aggravated assault after they allegedly used a Taser — referred to in the arrest warrant as “a deadly weapon” — on two college students.
“The training we have had for over 20 years tells us if they take your baton or your Taser, it now becomes one step more that you have to use deadly force,” Gaynor said. “Because those can be used against you to incapacitate you and then take your weapon.”
Officer had prior complaints
Rolfe, the officer who shot and killed Brooks, had several citizen complaints on his disciplinary record, all with notes that no action was taken, according to records released by the Atlanta Police Department.
He was also the subject of a 2016 use-of-force complaint that resulted in a written reprimand in 2017, the records show.
Rolfe was hired in 2013. Brosnan was hired in 2018.
CNN has reached out to the department for more information on the records and has also reached out to the Atlanta Police Foundation. Rolfe and Brosnan have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Brooks’ family is now preparing to bury the father of four.
“They’re planning a funeral. So anyone who has gone through that with a loved one they understand how tough that is,” family attorney L. Chris Stewart said.
“When you actually have to go pick out the suit that your father or husband or brother is going to wear in a casket.”
Brooks’ wife has previously said she wants both officers involved in the killing to go to jail.
“I want them to deal with the same thing as if it was my husband who killed someone else. If it was my husband who shot them, he would be in jail. He would be doing a life sentence. They need to be put away,” Miller previously told “CBS This Morning.”