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Atlanta police officers will not be charged for fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks

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Shaddi Abusaid, Alexis Stevens, Henri Hollis and Asia Simone Burns

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — More than two years after Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by Atlanta police, the case against the two officers involved has been dropped.

The special prosecutor overseeing the case announced Tuesday afternoon that he would not pursue charges against the officers. Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, shared the decision during an afternoon news conference in Morrow attended by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Brooks, 27, was shot and killed June 12, 2020, after Officers Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan tried to arrest him in the parking lot of a south Atlanta Wendy’s. The shooting set off protests at the restaurant, which was burned to the ground the following day.

Skandalakis started Tuesday’s news conference by thanking the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Atlanta Police Department for their assistance with the probe and for providing additional information. He walked through an extensive slide presentation on background about the case and a video analysis of the incident.

Skandalakis took time to emphasize the context around Brooks’ shooting, pointing out that the case against the officers was different than both the George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery cases.

“This case of Devin Brosnan and Garrett Rolfe is not like the George Floyd case,” Skandalakis said. “This is not a case in which an officer was kneeling on a prone suspect for nine minutes. It’s nothing like that. Nor is it like the Ahmaud Arbery case, where armed citizens were chasing a person down through a neighborhood. This case, its facts, are different. Its facts are distinct. But you can’t ignore the fact that all of this was happening about the same time.”

Danny Porter, the former longtime district attorney for Gwinnett County, also appeared at the news conference after reviewing the case at Skandalakis’ request.

“I have a rule: Video never lies, but sometimes it doesn’t tell the truth,” Porter said. “Initially with the video, it looked one way. But it became very clear … that a different incident happened than has been released both by former prosecutors and by other sources.”

The day after Brooks’ shooting was a tumultuous one in Atlanta. The city’s top cop at the time, police Chief Erika Shields, announced she was stepping down. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Rolfe had been fired.

Five days after Brooks’ high-profile shooting, former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced criminal charges against both officers. Rolfe was charged with 11 counts, including felony murder. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath of office.

Then, more details were released about what happened.

Brooks, who had been asleep at the wheel in a drive-thru line, resisted when the officers tried to arrest him on a DUI charge, according to investigators. As Brooks struggled with the officers, they fell to the ground and Brosnan hit his head hard enough to cause a concussion.

Brooks then took Brosnan’s Taser and was seen aiming it at Rolfe while running, firing once and missing. At that point, Rolfe fired three bullets at Brooks, hitting him twice in the back.

According to Skandalakis, the facts of the case were supported by his office’s investigation and analysis of the incident. He pointed out that, because of the city’s curfew at the time, the Wendy’s dining room was closed so customers could only order from the drive-thru window. Prior to the Wendy’s employees calling 911, Brooks had been asleep in his car in the drive-thru lane for about 40 minutes, Skandalakis said.

The restaurant manager went to Brooks’ car and knocked on the window, Skandalakis said. According to the investigation, Brooks rolled down his window and stared blankly at the manager when they asked him to move his car. He then rolled up his window and fell back asleep, leading to the 911 call.

“Police didn’t come into this encounter ‘hot,’” Porter said, supporting a point Skandalakis made earlier in the news conference when he described the encounter as “mostly cordial.”

During the officers’ conversation with Brooks, they suspected he was driving under the influence. Brooks consented to a portable field alcohol test and it returned a result of 0.108%, well above the legal limit of 0.08% blood alcohol content. When the officers attempted to take Brooks into custody, the encounter lost its cordial tone.

“I don’t think there’s any other way to describe it, but Brooks proceeds to beat the crap out of the two officers,” Porter said in his analysis of the video.

At that point, Porter says officers had probable cause to arrest Brooks for DUI, escape and resisting arrest.

Porter said they broke down the videos frame by frame and determined when officers first made physical contact with Brooks.

He said as Brosnan tried to put Brooks in handcuffs, Brooks lunged forward. In the struggle, Brooks gained control of Brosnan’s Taser.

Brooks attempted to use the Taser against Brosnan first, Porter explained. When Brooks tried to run away, he turned and aimed the Taser at Rolfe and attempted to fire it multiple times. Rolfe then fired the fatal shots, Porter said.

Porter said it’s his finding that Rolfe and Brosnan acted in accordance with Georgia law and policies of the Atlanta Police Department. He said he believes the use of deadly force was objectively reasonable.

“Based on the facts and circumstances confronting Officer Rolfe and Officer Brosnan in this case, it is my conclusion the use of deadly force was objectively reasonable and that they did not act with criminal intent,” Skandalakis said.

At the time of the shooting, Brooks was on probation until 2026. The father of three daughters and one stepson had already served one year behind bars for a 2014 incident in which he yanked his wife against her will into another room. Brooks pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and child cruelty because his stepson witnessed the fight.

His killing came after weeks of intense demonstrations in Atlanta and across the country over Floyd’s murder. The police shooting, captured on video, kicked off another wave of protests across the city that at times turned destructive.

Skandalakis said his team was in close contact with Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, throughout the investigation. He said they planned to meet with Miller after the news conference, but she canceled the meeting earlier in the day.

“We understand that Ms. Miller is in all likelihood upset with the result, but the result is the right one based on law and facts,” Skandalakis said. “And I know that more than Ms. Miller will be upset with the decision in this case. But as prosecutors, we are guided by the law and by the facts, and that is what we did.”

As the special prosecutor answered questions at the end of the news conference, Skandalakis addressed the political climate around Brooks’ shooting.

“Black lives do matter,” he said. “I’ve spent my entire career representing black victims of crime. I understand that the encounters between police and the African American community at times are very volatile. But I would ask them to look at the facts of this case, and this isn’t one of those cases … This is a case in which the officers were willing to give Mr. Brooks every benefit of the doubt, and unfortunately, by his actions, this is what happened.”

“Let’s just say if this was two black officers chasing a white suspect and the same facts happened, I would have the same findings,” Skandalakis continued. “The facts are the facts. I don’t change the facts based upon the color of a person’s skin, and I won’t change the facts based upon the color of a person’s skin. I do not think this shooting was racially motivated.”

Rolfe was reinstated by the city’s Civil Service Board in May 2021. In a statement released during the prosecution team’s press conference, APD said both Rolfe and Brosnan were still employed by the agency and are both currently on administrative duty.

“We have faith in the criminal justice system, and we respect the special prosecutor’s decision in this case,” APD said. “Both officers will undergo Georgia P.O.S.T. recertification and training.”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens released a statement saying his “heart continues to ache for the family of Rayshard Brooks. He was a father whose absence will forever be felt by our community.”

Dickens’ statement supported the special prosecutor’s decision to drop the charges and highlighted the city’s efforts to enact police reform.

“Over the last two years, our country has been engaged in important discussions about policing in America. We must maintain our commitment to the work of creating safe communities through collaboration between police and the people they serve,” Dickens said.

“In Atlanta, we hold ourselves to the highest standards. Through engagement with community advocates, the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta Police Department and others, we have listened and moved forward proactively with significant reforms. The Department has reviewed its standard operating procedures and enhanced training on how to deescalate confrontations. We are continually investing in training to ensure our officers make up the most qualified and proficient force in the country,” Dickens continued.

“As mayor, I remain committed to building the bonds of trust between our residents and the public safety personnel who serve us.”

Rolfe and Brosnan filed a federal lawsuit in June saying they were attacked by Brooks and had the right to use force to prevent him from “imminent use of unlawful force against them.”

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©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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