Atlanta’s top prosecutor said his office will decide this week whether to bring charges against the police officer who shot Rayshard Brooks, a black man whose killing outside a Wendy’s on Friday sparked a fresh wave of protests against police violence in the Southern city and added fuel to nationwide anger over racial injustice.
Family members on Sunday recalled Brooks as a good father who was getting his life back together when he was shot and killed in a confrontation with Garrett Rolfe and another Atlanta police officer after a DUI stop.
Public outrage mounted across the country over the weekend, as demonstrators in New York, Los Angeles and other cities and towns took to the streets for the latest in a wave of protests prompted by last month’s killing of another black man, George Floyd, in the custody of Minneapolis police.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office determined Sunday that Brooks suffered organ damage and blood loss from two gunshot wounds, and that his official cause of death was “gunshot wounds of the back.”
Also on Sunday, Senate Republicans outlined a legislative proposal to enact police reforms — their answer to a sweeping bill introduced last week by Senate Democrats.
Brooks’s father, Larry Barbine, told The Washington Post in an interview from his Toledo home that the family was in shock, unable to accept that his son had been killed just as his life seemed to be going better than it had in years.
“I can’t understand why it happened like that,” Barbine said of the shooting. “I heard of his passing on Saturday. Not his passing, his murder. I’m just devastated.”
In an interview with “CBS This Morning” two days after her husband’s death, Tomika Miller, Brooks’s widow, called for the officers involved to be prosecuted.
“I want them to go to jail … If it was my husband who shot them, he would be in jail,” Miller said in the interview, which airs in full Monday morning. “He would be doing a life sentence. They need to be put away.”
According to a preliminary report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, officers were dispatched Friday night to a Wendy’s in Atlanta on a complaint about a man parked and asleep in the drive-through. The officers performed a sobriety test on the man, later identified as Brooks. When Brooks failed the test, officers attempted to put him in custody. The response escalated, and Brooks grabbed an officer’s stun gun and began running away.
Video of the encounter appears to show Brooks turning back toward the officer and pointing the Taser at him, at which point the officer is seen drawing a weapon from his holster and firing at Brooks.
Paul Howard, the Fulton County district attorney, told CNN on Sunday that a decision on whether to bring charges in the case will be made “sometime around Wednesday.”
“He did not seem to present any threat to anyone,” Howard said of Brooks. “The fact that it would escalate to his death seems unreasonable.”
The police department has fired Rolfe, the officer who shot his gun, and pulled the other officer, Devin Brosnan, off street patrols. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned Saturday.
Efforts to reach Rolfe and Brosnan by phone on Sunday were unsuccessful. Vince Champion, Southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said the union is providing legal services to the officers but declined to make the lawyers available for an interview and said he was speaking for the officers.
He said he did not have much background on the officers and could not opine on whether the shooting was justified because “we have no investigation.”
“Unlike the district attorney, the former chief of police and the mayor, I don’t base my facts and do things just on one video,” Champion told The Post. “I do investigations, as I’ve done all my life as a police officer, and I get both sides of the story.”
Champion was critical of the decision to terminate Rolfe within 24 hours of the shooting, arguing that it was made to “pander” to rioters and that it denied the officer his due process rights.
And he said that after the chief’s resignation, officers in Atlanta now feel they have “nobody on their side.”
“We are in a Catch-22 between both sides at this point,” Champion said. “We’ve got the citizens that we depend on not liking us, we’ve got the administration and the government that we depend on not liking us. … We welcome changing, we always do. It’s the cities and counties that don’t want to pay for it.”
The University Avenue Wendy’s where Brooks was shot was in flames Saturday after a day of protests that continued into Sunday. Authorities announced a $10,000 reward for information about who started the fire.
Dozens of signs and bouquets of flowers lined the fence around what used to be the restaurant’s outdoor seating area. Protesters stood on the tables holding signs and chanting, “Say his name!” “Rayshard Brooks!” Spray painted tributes on the walls read “RIP Rayshard.” And just before 5 p.m. a group of bikers pulled into the parking lot blasting anti-police songs by the 1990s rap group NWA.
Rolfe, the officer who shot Brooks, was hired in 2013, while the other officer, Brosnan, was hired in 2018, according to the Atlanta Police Department.
Rolfe was assigned to the department’s High Intensity Traffic Team, a special operations unit aimed at reducing alcohol- and drug-related traffic violations. Members of the team are “specially trained and equipped to detect and process alcohol and/or drug-impaired drivers,” according to a police department document, although it was not immediately clear whether the unit was still in operation.
In May 2019, Rolfe was awarded a silver pin for making between 50 and 99 DUI arrests within a year, the department said in a Facebook post at the time.
Rolfe was one of four officers accused of making a false arrest in March 2015. The Atlanta Citizen Review Board, which investigates allegations of police misconduct, ruled the claim against him as not sustained, meaning there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of misconduct, according to a document on the review board’s website. The allegation against one of the other officers involved was sustained, with the board recommending he receive additional training.
The incident has drawn national attention. Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost in her bid for Georgia governor in 2018, said protesters were right to demand accountability and should continue to push for change until meaningful reforms are made.
“There’s a legitimacy to this anger. There’s a legitimacy to this outrage. A man was murdered because he was asleep in a drive-through, and we know that this is not an isolated occurrence,” she said on ABC News’s “This Week.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., noted that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had acted swiftly in the wake of the shooting. Scott said it was hard to parse whether the police had used excessive force.
“The question is, when the suspect turned to fire the Taser, what should the officer have done?” he said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
Lawyers for the Brooks family have said that Brooks was celebrating his daughter’s birthday earlier that night. Brooks had been looking forward to the party all week, according to Barbine.
“The night he got killed, he had had a few drinks and he was heading back. He had called me and he was telling me about the birthday party, and how he was glad to be with the kids. I asked him, ‘How are you and your wife coming along?’ and he said, ‘I’m back in good graces.’ And I told him, ‘That’s where you need to be,'” Barbine said.
Brooks was born and raised in Atlanta. He had some troubled years, Barbine said, but had recently settled down, straightened out his relationship with his wife, and was getting into a routine of working hard and showing up for their kids.
Kiara Owens, Brooks’s 26-year-old half-sister, said in an interview that Brooks worked in construction and traveled for the job, working gigs in Ohio, Mississippi, Texas and Florida. He had no real permanent residence for this reason, often staying in hotels or with family friends while in Atlanta, she said.
“I don’t fully fault the officers, I don’t fully fault my brother,” she said of the shooting. “Everyone was just trying to make it home that night.”
Bottoms announced Saturday that Interim Corrections Chief Rodney Bryant would take over leadership of the department as interim chief until a permanent replacement is found.
Bryant spent a long career in law enforcement, and held several high-level leadership roles in the Atlanta police department before retiring from it in April 2019 and later taking a role as acting head of the Atlanta City Detention Center. Bottoms said former chief Shields would remain with the department in a still-undetermined role.
Amid the mounting calls for change at the national level, Senate Republicans plan to release a proposal on Wednesday that addresses officer misconduct, training and tactics, and a system for local departments to better report cases in which officers’ actions result in serious injury or death, two of the legislation’s authors said Sunday.
Scott and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who have been working on the GOP’s answer to a bill released by House Democrats last week, both endorsed a ban on chokeholds Sunday. But while Scott stressed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that both chambers of Congress and the White House “want to tackle the issue,” it is not clear whether such a ban will appear in the GOP bill.
In a bid to hold individual officers more accountable for their actions, the House Democrats’ proposal includes a provision to change the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” making it easier to sue officers who “recklessly” violate civil rights, whether or not they did so with intent. Scott called that provision a nonstarter.
“The president sent the signal that qualified immunity is off the table. They see that as a poison pill on our side,” Scott said on “Face the Nation.” “So we’re going to have to find a path that helps us reduce misconduct within the officers. But at the same time, we know that any poison pill in legislation means we get nothing done.”
Protests continued in several cities over the weekend. In New York, thousands of demonstrators dressed in white marched Sunday to draw attention to violence against black transgender people.
In California, activists and local authorities have demanded investigations into the hanging deaths of two black men in recent weeks.
On Saturday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger requested that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra investigate the death of Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old black man who was found hanging from a tree last week near city hall in Palmdale, about an hour north of downtown Los Angeles.
Becerra’s office did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. According to the Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner’s office, a decision on the cause of Fuller’s death has been deferred pending additional investigation.
More than 215,000 people have signed a petition demanding a full investigation, and at a briefing by city authorities on Friday, local residents questioned why Fuller’s death was originally classified as a suicide.
Authorities are also investigating a separate incident in which Malcolm Harsch, a 38-year-old black man, was found hanging from a tree near a homeless encampment in Victorville, about an hour east of Palmdale, on May 31.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is conducting a death investigation but told the Victorville Daily Press on Saturday that no foul play is suspected.
An online petition for a probe into Harsch’s death had garnered more than 16,000 signatures as of Sunday night.
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Willis reported from Atlanta. Miranda Green in Los Angeles and The Washington Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Rachel Siegel in Washington contributed to this report.