ATLANTA (AP) — The former Atlanta police officer charged with felony murder in the death of Rayshard Brooks was involved in another shooting five years ago that left a man with a punctured lung, a newspaper reported Saturday.
Citing court documents, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the older case was investigated by Atlanta police and turned over to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who cleared the officers involved — including Garrett Rolfe — in February.
A judge on Friday denied bond for the 27-year-old Rolfe, who has been charged with felony murder and other crimes after fatally shooting Rayshard Brooks in the back outside of a Wendy’s restaurant in Atlanta after Brooks fired a stun gun in his direction. Rolfe is white; Brooks was Black.
The 2015 shooting was not mentioned in the original incident report or in documents made available to the court-appointed attorney for the man who had been shot, Jackie Harris, the newspaper reported.
Retired Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs presided over Harris’ 2016 trial. She told the newspaper that it was the first time she had ever come across a case of an incident report failing to mention that shots were fired.
Harris, 40 at the time, had tried to flee from police after he was spotted driving a stolen truck, records show. He eventually crashed into a gas meter and twice ran into a parked police car.
Atlanta Police Capt. Michael O’Connor was quoted by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time saying that Harris could have struck officers with the vehicle he was driving so they “fired their weapons to stop what they viewed as the threat of the truck that was coming at them.”
Harris was unarmed but O’Connor said he had a weapon — “a 3,000 pound pickup truck.”
Downs said she suspected a possible cover-up. She immediately turned the officers’ names, along with information about the case to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. But Atlanta police did not use the GBI at that time to conduct investigations into officer shootings. According to GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles, the agency turned Downs’ report over to Atlanta Police.
In a letter to the court, Harris, who is Black, said he was shot at numerous times by the officers, and was hit once in the back. Harris’ attorney, Serena Nunn, said five shots were fired in all — three from Rolfe’s service weapon.
Harris’ legal team argued he didn’t drive into the other cars until after he had been shot and called into question O’Connor’s claim in the newspaper that the officers shot in self-defense.
One year after Harris’ shooting, Rolfe received a written reprimand for violating the department’s use of firearm policy during a separate incident. In the September 2016 incident, Rolfe told investigators he was in the passenger seat of a patrol car when it pulled up next to the suspects’ vehicle during a chase. He couldn’t see into the windows and, based on their flight and his experience with similar cases, he was afraid the occupants might be armed.
He drew his gun to be prepared to conduct a stop and to protect himself if gunfire began, but he didn’t have his finger on the trigger, he said. The letter of reprimand says he violated a policy that says officers shouldn’t point a gun at people unless firing the gun would be justifiable.
He was also cleared of a number of citizen complaints after the department investigated and had a number of minor car wrecks, some his fault, some the fault of the other drivers.
In connection with the shooting death of Brooks on June 12, Rolfe faces charges including felony murder. A bond hearing in Fulton County Superior Court has been set for Tuesday afternoon. Another officer has been charged in connection with Brooks’ shooting.
Prosecutors say Officer Devin Brosnan stood on Brooks’ shoulder as he struggled for his life. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violation of his oath.
Lawyers for both men have said their clients’ actions were justified.
Rolfe was fired and Brosnan, 26, is on desk duty. Police Chief Erika Shields stepped down less than 24 hours after Brooks died.
Police said Brosnan, who’d been an officer since February, had no prior discipline records.