“This case of Devin Brosnan and Garrett Rolfe is not like the George Floyd case,” he 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.”
Still, he added: “You can’t ignore the fact that all of this was happening about the same time.”
Brooks, 27, was shot and killed on the night of June 12, 2020, during the height of the racial justice protests that followed the murder of Floyd in Minneapolis. Video soon emerged showing Brooks running away when he was shot by Rolfe, an officer. The day after the shooting, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned from office, Rolfe was fired, and Brosnan, another officer on the scene, was pulled off street patrols.
Four days later, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced that Rolfe had been charged with felony murder, aggravated assault and other offenses, while Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and other related counts. Soon after, a number of Atlanta police officers called in sick to protest the decision to charge the men.
But in August 2020, Howard was defeated in his bid for reelection and his replacement, Fani Willis, accused him of tainting the case, pushing forward charges before the investigation had been completed. Critics have accused Howard of pursuing the case in an effort to bolster his reelection chances. Willis petitioned for the Georgia attorney general’s office to take over the case. Attorney General Chris Carr selected Skandalakis to prosecute it.
Rolfe’s disciplinary record showed a history of citizen complaints and that he had formerly been disciplined for issues including in a use-of-force incident. In May 2021, the Atlanta Civil Service Board reinstated Rolfe to the Atlanta Police Department, concluding that he “was not afforded his right to due process.”
Andre Dickens, Atlanta’s freshman Black mayor, issued a statement saying he respected the work of the special prosecutor but felt for the Brooks family.
“My heart continues to ache for the family of Rayshard Brooks,” he said. “He was a father whose absence will forever be felt by our community.”
Atlanta City Council member Antonio Lewis, who represents the area where the shooting occurred, came out against the ruling.
“Seeing the charges dismissed truly pains me,” Lewis said in a statement. “We must continue to work toward keeping our neighborhoods safe, but we also must hold police accountable.”
Gerald Griggs, president of Georgia NAACP, also issued a statement critical of the prosecutor’s decision. Griggs said the decision of whether to pursue charges should have been made by a grand jury.
“We have two different prosecutors with two different charging opinions, therefore the case needs to be presented to a grand jury for the citizens of Fulton County to make a decision,” Griggs said. “As the Georgia NAACP, we take civil rights very seriously and 2020 changed the conversation on social justice, therefore the citizens should determine what police accountability looks like.”
The Atlanta Police Department issued a statement saying the two White officers involved in the shooting, who are on administrative duty, would undergo training to be recertified for street patrols.
The incident started when Atlanta officer Brosnan first approached Brooks’s car, in which Brooks was asleep, for blocking the drive-through lane of a Wendy’s in southwest Atlanta. Rolfe arrived some minutes later and conducted a field sobriety test on Brooks that found that his blood alcohol content was above the legal limit, according to a report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
As Brosnan and Rolfe tried to take Brooks into custody, a fight broke out between the three men. Video of the scuffle showed that Brooks grabbed Brosnan’s Taser and attempted to flee. Rolfe ran after Brooks, and Brooks turned around and fired the Taser toward Rolfe. Rolfe then fired three shots at Brooks.
Skandalakis said investigators reached their conclusion that no crime had been committed after looking at the video and concluding that Rolfe had to make a life-or-death split-second decision.
“We do not look at this with 20/20 hindsight,” he said. “We look at it with what information the officers had in a dynamic situation that is quickly evolving.”
He added that he did not believe the shooting was racially motivated.
“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.”
Justin Miller, one of the attorneys representing the Brooks family in a separate civil suit against the city and the officers, dismissed the idea that race had nothing to do with what happened that night.
“If you think about Officer Rolfe, look at where he’s from,” Miller said. “Had he ever met anyone like Rayshard Brooks before? Probably not. So there’s a racial element every time you send in an officer who is not trained and who is not familiar with the community.”
Dickens said Tuesday that the Atlanta department has improved training on how to de-escalate confrontations since the shooting.
“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,” he said. “We are continually investing in training to ensure our officers make up the most qualified and proficient force in the country.”
Rolfe’s attorneys said that their client would not be making any statement and that they believed Skandalakis’s decision was the right one.
“Officer Rolfe is thankful for the support he received from the community, members of the Atlanta Police Department, and from citizens and law enforcement across the United States,” attorneys Noah H. Pines, Bill Thomas, and Lance LoRusso said in a statement. “He hopes that any protests will remain peaceful.”
L. Chris Stewart, another lawyer representing the Brooks family, said Brooks’s widow, Tomika Miller, expected the decision but was still heartbroken. Stewart said they were focused on getting justice for the family in the civil suit.
“Today, we’ll take our fight to civil court because that seems to be the only place that we can get justice,” he said.
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