Update: On Wednesday afternoon, Garrett Rolfe was charged with felony murder in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks. The second officer involved, Devin Brosnan, was charged with aggravated assault. According to an announcement from the district attorney's office in Atlanta, Rolfe is facing a total of 11 charges related to the shooting, and evidence compiled against him includes 10 witnesses and eight videos.
This story was originally published on June 17, 2020 at 2:30 p.m.
In a statement issued Monday, Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams stood by the use of deadly force by police officer Garrett Rolfe who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta last week. According to Williams, the story is becoming politicised by the city’s mayor and the police department in light of the widespread national outcry for police reform and doesn't accurately reflect on the policing in this case.
Rolfe was fired the day after the shooting took place and a second officer on the scene, Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty. Erika Shields, Atlanta’s police chief, also stepped down from her position following the shooting. Brooks’ death was ruled a homicide and, according to a statement made by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr., a decision about criminal charges could come midweek. In response to Brooks’ death, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a series of administrative orders requiring the police department to reform its use-of-force rules and increase de-escalation tactics.
“I think it was a justified shooting based on the limited information that has been presented on the video and what I’ve seen on television,” said Williams on Monday. “It was completely justified, it follows all use-of-force policy guidelines and it just appears to me more of a politicisation of the situation, which I think it’s very harmful to law enforcement.”
And despite Williams' suggestion that there wasn't a policing problem in this case, records from the officer in question say otherwise. What isn’t shown in the video is that this is not the first report of violence on record for Rolfe. A copy of Rolfe’s disciplinary history, released by the Atlanta Police Department on Monday, lists 12 incidents including a written reprimand in 2017 for a use-of-force incident involving a firearm from the year prior. Others listed include four complaints from citizens and five vehicle accidents. Rolfe was exonerated in nine out of the 12 incidents following internal reviews. Records for Brosnan show no disciplinary history since joining the department nearly two years ago, reports the Wall Street Journal.
What is clear, according to advocates of police abolition, is that the systemic problems with officers like Rolfe run deep, and ultimately amount to the killing of unarmed Black men, like Rayshard Brooks. Brooks, who was unarmed when he was shot, was first questioned by the Atlanta officers for sleeping in his parked car at a Wendy's.
“I tried to wake him up, but he’s parked dead in the middle of the drive-through, so I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” a Wendy’s employee said on the phone to police. When the dispatcher asked the employee if the man appeared to be armed, they responded, “No, no. I think he’s intoxicated.” The man, Brooks, appears to cooperate with officers; however, the encounter allegedly escalated after he failed a sobriety test.
According to a press release from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Brooks grabbed one of the officer’s tasers and started to run off before turning and pointing the taser at the officer. When news of the deadly shooting broke, Bottoms quickly denounced it as an inappropriate use of force. “That could have been any one of us,” Bottoms told NBC’s Today on Tuesday. “That could be any of our kids or brothers. In this case it was: it was someone’s father.” But this directly opposes Williams' suggestion that the officer acted justly, which continues to spark a larger conversation about systemic police brutality in the U.S.
Over the weekend, protestors added Brooks to the growing list of names cited on signs and in chants condemning police brutality. Demonstrators in Georgia demanded Rolfe be arrested, reports The Guardian. In a tense news conference on Monday, Brooks’ family called for murder charges against Rolfe and an overhaul of Atlanta’s police department. “There’s no justice that can ever make me feel happy about what’s been done,” said Brooks’ wife, Tomika Miller. “I can never get my husband and best friend back.”
Refinery29 reached out to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for comment. We will update this story as we know more.