ATLANTA — UPDATE: Special prosecutor Pete Skandalakis has said he determined it was "reasonable" to use deadly force by Atlanta Ofc. Garrett Rolfe in the shooting of Rayshard Brooks at a Wendy's in June 2020.
He said the officers "acted within the scope of their duties" when they began to arrest Brooks at the Wendy's on suspicion of DUI and had "no idea" a struggle would occur and result in the shooting of Brooks.
Skandalakis said they "committed no crimes" and "acted as reasonable officers" and that the use of force was justified.
The charges against Ofc. Rolfe - which included murder - and Ofc. Devin Brosnan stemming from the night of the shooting have been dropped.
Skandalakis said his office would "file in Fulton County an administrative dismissal in which we will be dismissing all the warrants" against Rolfe and Brosnan.
Attorneys representing Brooks' family held a press conference Tuesday evening and expressed their disagreement with the decision.
"They got it wrong because a Fulton County jury will not have the opportunity to hear this case and that's a travesty of justice," attorney Justin Miller with Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys said.
Attorney L. Chris Stewart, who was also part of the team that represented George Floyd's family in Minnesota, echoed those comments.
He noted that the kind of presentation Skandalakis gave Tuesday was very much like the one former Fulton DA Paul Howard gave two years ago - when he was announcing an opposite conclusion about whether there should be charges in the case.
"You can understand, no matter what you look like, how that's confusing," he said.
Danny Porter, the former Gwinnett County District Attorney who was brought on to consult with Skandalakis' office in this case, acknowledged after a question from a reporter that all the analysts involved were white.
Skandalakis said he did not believe race was a factor in the shooting by two white officers of Brooks, a Black man, because the video and audio of the incident "speak for themselves."
Gerald Griggs, the Georgia NAACP president, told 11Alive after the decision was announced that he believed Skandalakis and Porter had gotten it wrong.
"We need to present this case to a grand jury because only the citizens of Fulton County should determine if this case should proceed forward," Griggs said.
Criminal defense attorney Darryl Cohen, also speaking with 11Alive, disagreed. He said he felt former Fulton DA Paul Howard had "overreached and overstepped" in bringing charges against the officers and that the circumstances did not warrant being presented to a grand jury.
Skandalakis presented several video clips of the police encounter with Brooks and then shooting in delivering his findings.
Porter outlined how the decision that deadly force was "reasonable" rested on three key elements:
- That in taking the Taser from Brosnan, Brooks gave Rolfe cause to "reasonably believe the suspect possesses a deadly weapon." He said under case law a Taser can be considered such a weapon.
- That in the struggle with Brooks on the ground before he started running away, he had "overpowered" the officers and they "would have had reasonable belief he was an immediate threat of physical violence."
- That the above two elements constituted probable cause to arrest Brooks believing he had "committed a crime... to involve infliction or threat of infliction of serious bodily harm."
Porter also said he had reviewed APD policy on the use of deadly force and determined Rolfe had not violated it.
"So it's our finding - my finding - in this case that Ofc. Rolfe acted in accordance with Georgia law, that he acted in accordance with Atlanta Police policy on use of deadly force, acted in accordance with controlling case law; and based on the facts and circumstances confronting Rolfe and Brosnan, the use of force was objectively reasonable and they did not act with criminal intent," Porter said.
Stewart, the Brooks family attorney, acknowledged that whether Brooks was in the wrong in initiating a struggle with officers was not in question. He said during that fight, lethal force would have been "100%" justified - but it wasn't during the fight that Brooks was shot.
"They chose not to (shoot), when they were justified, but they decided to use lethal force as a man was running away, 19 feet away," he said. "Was it wrong? Yes. Did he have to take his life? No."
Stewart said their biggest issue was with the process - that it did not go to a grand jury, and that people in Fulton County did not get the final say on a matter that two different district attorneys in the last two years had come to different conclusions about.
"All we're asking is that the community resolves these situations when it's a close call... letting the people decide," Stewart said.
Brosnan has remained on the Atlanta Police force since the incident, in a reassigned administrative duty, while Rolfe rejoined the force last year, also in administrative duty, after a city board determined his firing had not followed proper protocols.
APD said in a statement they would undergo Georgia POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) recertification and training.
Atlanta Police Department statement
We have faith in the criminal justice system, and we respect the special prosecutor’s decision in this case.
Both Officer Garrett Rolfe and Officer Devin Brosnan are still employed with APD.
They are currently on administrative duty. Both officers will undergo Georgia P.O.S.T. recertification and training.
Mayor Andre Dickens statement
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said in a statement that his "heart continues to ache for the family of Rayshard Brooks."
He was a father whose absence will forever be felt by our community.
“This matter was referred to the special prosecutor last year. I respect the independent role that the special prosecutor played in this case. Today, we received his decision.
“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.
“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.
“As Mayor, I remain committed to building the bonds of trust between our residents and the public safety personnel who serve us.”
Ofc. Garrett Rolfe statement
Garrett Rolfe is relieved that the criminal charges filed against him by former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard have finally been dismissed and that he has been exonerated for his actions on June 12, 2020.
As concluded by the Director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of the State of Georgia, Pete Skandalakis, who was appointed to handle this case by Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr, the evidence and applicable law supports Officer Rolfe’s actions on June 12, 2020. As stated by Director Skandalakis, there is no evidence that Officer Rolfe acted with criminal intent and therefore the charges against him will be dismissed.
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. He hopes that any protests will remain peaceful. He will not be making any statements at this time.
It has been our privilege to represent Garrett Rolfe.
Ofc. Devin Brosnan statement
This was the proper and only decision that could be reached based upon the evidence and Georgia law. As to Officer Brosnan, this decision is long overdue.
More than two years after the incident that resulted in Rayshard Brooks’s death, the State of Georgia has finally arrived at the right decision: that Officer Brosnan’s arrest was never supported by any evidence. Officer Brosnan was assaulted and tased by Mr. Brooks, and as a result suffered a concussion and required medical treatment. Despite his own injuries, he called for and personally rendered aid to Mr. Brooks after the shooting. At no point did he assault or abuse Mr. Brooks.
Officer Brosnan and his family thank the countless members of the public and law enforcement community around the United States who have voiced their support and sent their prayers. Officer Brosnan will not be making any further statements at this time.
Original story below
The special prosecutor in the Rayshard Brooks murder case will announce a decision today regarding the charges against officers in Brooks' 2020 police shooting death.
A press conference by prosecutor Pete Skandalakis is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia office in Morrow. You can watch that here, on the 11Alive YouTube channel, or our Roku and Amazon Fire apps.
The shooting of Brooks came at the peak of the movement in the summer of 2020 for police accountability and set off nights of searing protests in Atlanta, infamously including the burning of the Wendy's where he was shot.
The case against the officers - which includes a murder charge against Officer Garrett Rolfe, who shot Brooks - has proceeded haltingly over the past two years, and been passed between three different prosecutors.
Skandalakis was appointed by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr last year to review the case after a judge ruled in favor of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis' recusal request.
Video | 11Alive will stream the conference in the player above and below
Willis had argued both during the 2020 campaign for district attorney and in the months after taking office that former DA Paul Howard mishandled and politicized the case, making it impossible for her office to try the case.
Rolfe, who shot and killed Brooks as he ran from him after grabbing his Taser and discharging it back toward the officer, faces a felony murder charge and multiple counts of aggravated assault in the case. Officer Devin Brosnan, who was accused of kicking and stepping on Brooks as he lay dying after being shot, is charged with aggravated assault.
Rolfe was fired immediately after the incident, but reinstated more than a year ago by a city board that had determined the firing did not follow proper procedures. Brosnan has remained with the Atlanta Police Department since the incident.
Earlier this year, lawyers for Rolfe and Brosnan also announced they were suing ex-Fulton DA Howard, the city of Atlanta, former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields over their handling of the Brooks shooting.
The broader trend in these cases and several others in metro Atlanta is the clearing of officers, legally and administratively, in use-of-force and shooting cases.
Already, there have been several setbacks in this case and the other high-profile Atlanta Police use-of-force case that touched a nerve two summers ago. In this case, Rolfe's reinstatement put him back on the force less than a year after he was charged.
Another case, in which six APD officers were charged during the protests for pulling two college students - Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim - out of a car and tasing them as they made an arrest in Downtown Atlanta, was dropped in May.
Brooks' widow, Tomika Miller, meanwhile has a civil suit against the officers and the city that remains unresolved.
Activists and supporters of Brooks' family also continue to push for the former site of the Wendy's in Peoplestown to be turned into a peace center named in his honor.