Prosecutors on Wednesday announced criminal charges against two officers involved in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, who was killed during a DUI arrest after he fell asleep in his car at a Wendy’s drive-thru lane.
Former Atlanta cop Garrett Rolfe, 27, has been charged with 11 counts—including felony murder—for shooting Brooks on June 12 as he was running away through the crowded parking lot, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said. After shooting him twice in the back, Rolfe then kicked the 27-year-old man “while he was lying on the ground,” the prosecutor said.
“Mr. Brooks on the night of the incident was calm and cordial and displaced a cooperative nature. Secondly, even though Mr. Brooks was slightly impacted, his demeanor during this incident was also jovial,” Howard said during an afternoon press conference.
“Mr. Brooks never presented himself as a threat,” he added.
During the press conference, Howard said his office’s decision to file charges against Rolfe and the other officer at the scene, Devin Brosnan, came after reviewing eight videos of the incident, as well as taser and ballistics reports. They also interviewed seven witnesses.
Howard alleged that Rolfe knew that the Taser Brooks was holding when he was shot had been fired twice—rendering it unusable and not a danger to the officers. When Brooks turned and tried to fire the Taser at the two men as he was running, Rolfe shot Brooks in the back.
“Mr. Brooks was running away at the time the shot was fired,” Howard said, stating that he was about 18 feet and three inches away from Rolfe when he was fired upon, a violation of police code and use of excessive force.
After he was shot, Brooks did not receive aid for two minutes—and Brosnan stood on his shoulders “as he was fighting for his life,” Howard said.
“It is Atlanta law for an officer to render aid for someone after they’ve been shot,” he said.
Brosnan, who Howard said had “remarkably” become a state witness, also faces three charges, including aggravated assault and violation of oath. Howard said Brosnan’s decision to testify against his colleague marks the first time an officer has agreed to “testify against someone in his own department.”
However, Brosnan’s attorney said that Brosnan was cooperating with investigators but it was “absolutely untrue” to say he’d turned state witness.
“The decision to initiate charges by the Fulton County DA’s office is irrational, unethical and obviously based on factors which should have nothing to do with the proper administration of justice,” Don Samuel said in the statement, adding that his client plans to plead not guilty.
Howard said that while he is recommending a $50,000 bond for Brosnan, he believes Rolfe should be held without bail. Prosecutors are now asking the two officers to turn themselves in by 6 p.m. Thursday.
Rolfe faces a maximum life sentence or the death penalty, while Brosnan faces up to 20 years in prison.
Before Brosnan’s attorney released a statement, Chris Stewart, an attorney for Brooks’ family, had praised Brosnan for apparently having the courage to come forward and admit his wrongdoing—and agreeing to go against his fellow officer.
“It’s heartbreaking but it’s an attempt to redefine justice,” Stewart said. “The positivity of this situation is the courageousness of Officer Brosnan to step forward and say what was wrong. It’s that kind of officer that will change policing.”
The charges come days after Rolfe was fired when footage of the police killing spurred a national outcry, the resignation of Atlanta’s police chief, and mass protests in Atlanta amid two weeks of nationwide unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Brosnan was placed on administrative leave on Sunday, the same day the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Brooks’ death a homicide.
Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, said in a press conference on Wednesday she is heartbroken but grateful for the charges against the two officers.
“Father’s Day is coming up and all I can think about is ‘what if my husband was still here,’” she said through tears.
Justin Miller, another attorney for Brooks’ family, said criminal charges were “step one,” with the next move being “convicted on all charges.”
“Look into your heart and have some empathy for another human being...he may not look like you but he is, and was a human being,” Miller said. “I was taught as a kid that you don’t kick a man when he’s down....that is an American thing.”
“America is not America for all Americans,” he added.
Authorities say the confrontation began at around 10:30 p.m. on Friday, when officers Brosnan and Rolfe arrived at the Wendy’s in south Atlanta to find Brooks asleep in a car blocking the drive-thru lane.
According to released body-cam footage, the officers talked with Brooks for 27 minutes. During the conversation, the pair asked if Brooks had been drinking, to which he replied he had consumed maybe one and a half cocktails. The officers then conducted a breathalyzer test on him, finding Brooks had a .108 blood alcohol level—which is above Georgia’s legal limit.
“I think you’ve had too much to drink to be driving,” Rolfe told Brooks as Brosnan tried to handcuff him, sparking a confrontation. A struggle ensued and one of the officers can be heard yelling, “You’re going to get Tased! Stop fighting!”
The two cops fought with Brooks for about 41 seconds before the 27-year-old grabbed Brosnan’s stun gun, according to the video footage. Brooks got up and ran away. As he was running, he turned and fired the Taser towards Rolfe, who had already grabbed his service weapon from its holster.
Howard said Wednesday that after Rolfe shot Brooks twice in the back, he yelled, “I got him!”
Six minutes after the shooting, an ambulance arrived to take Brooks to Grady Memorial Hospital. Brooks was pronounced dead shortly after surgery at the hospital.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office autopsy revealed Brooks suffered two gunshot wounds to his back and died from blood loss and injuries to several organs.
Stewart said Monday that the fatal incident could have easily been avoided when Brooks told the two officers he could walk home to his sister’s house nearby.
After the incident, cellphone video of the shooting exploded on social media, prompting protesters to immediately converge at the scene of the crime. Hours later, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that Police Chief Erika Shields was stepping down after determining the shooting was not justified.
“It is my hope that justice will be served—not only for the family of Mr. Brooks, but for the victims and families of the other use of force cases waiting to be resolved by the District Attorney,” Bottoms said in a Tuesday statement after the charges were announced. “My condolences and prayers remain with the family of Mr. Brooks, as well as the other families awaiting justice.”