By BILL HUTCHINSON, ABC News
(ATLANTA) — The fired Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant violated at least seven police department policies governing the use of force, including kicking the victim after allegedly shooting him in the back and failing to immediately administer medical aid, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced that warrants have been issued for former police officer Garrett Rolfe on 11 charges, including felony murder, multiple counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and seven violations of his office. Warrants were also issued for another officer involved in the fatal confrontation, Devin Brosnan, on two counts of violations of oath and one count of aggravated assault.
“We’ve concluded that at the time Mr. Brooks was shot, he did not pose an imminent threat of serious injury to the officers,” Howard said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Howard said there is photographic and video evidence, as well as statements from at least 10 witnesses, that Rolfe allegedly ignored his training and department policies when Brooks attempted to run from him and he opened fire multiple times in a crowded parking lot, hitting the victim twice in the back and sending one bullet into a nearby car occupied by three men.
He said Rolfe stands accused of violating numerous rules in the Atlanta Police Department Policy Manuel regarding the use of force, specifically one governing what officers can and cannot do to apprehend a suspect. The rule reads that lethal force can only be used if an officer “reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury and when he or she reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or others.”
The shooting happened Friday night after a Wendy’s employee called police to complain that Brooks was passed out behind the wheel of a car in the drive-thru lane.
Brosnan was the first to arrive on the scene and knocked on Brooks’ window but could not wake him up. Body camera video showed Brosnan opening the door and shaking Brooks awake.
Rolfe responded to the scene when Brosnan radioed a dispatcher saying he needed a DUI-certified officer.
Howard said that prior to the shooting, Rolfe and Brosnan spoke to Brooks for 41 minutes and 17 seconds and that Brooks was cordial in answering their questions and complying with their orders to be patted down, submit to a series of field sobriety tests and a Breathalyzer exam that showed he was “slightly impaired.”
The district attorney said the first department rule Rolfe broke was to not inform Brooks that he was being arrested for driving under the influence. He said that at the time Rolfe grabbed Brooks from behind by the arm and moved to handcuff him, both officers were aware that Brooks was not armed.
Howard noted that the Atlanta police use-of-force policy clearly states that lethal force can only be used “when there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm and the employee reasonably believes that the suspect’s escape would create a continuing danger of serious physical harm to any person.”
“Mr. Brooks never presented himself as a threat,” Howard said.
As Brosnan and Rolfe both grabbed Brooks, a struggle suddenly occurred. Bodycam and patrol car dashcam video shows Brooks fighting with the officers and taking Brosnan’s yellow stun gun when the officer threatened to deploy it on Brooks.
The videos captured Brooks breaking free and fleeing while holding the stun gun. Howard displayed a photo of Brooks turning around, aiming the stun gun over Rolfe’s head and firing.
He said that before shooting Brooks, Rolfe fired his stun gun twice at the fleeing man in another violation of department rules.
“The Atlanta policy says you cannot fire a Taser at someone who is running away. So you certainly can’t fire a handgun at someone who is running away,” Howard said.
Howard said that at the time Rolfe aimed and fired at Brooks’ back from 18 feet, 3 inches away, “Rolfe was aware that the Taser in Brooks’ possession was fired twice and presented no danger to him.”
Video captured three shots from Rolfe’s 9 mm Glock service weapon. Two of the shots hit Brooks in the back, and a third penetrated a car that was in the drive-thru lane and nearly hit three men inside who were visiting the area from West Memphis.
Howard said that after seeing Brooks fall to the pavement, Rolfe uttered the words, “I got him.”
Howard said that even after Brooks was shot, Rolfe and Brosnan continued to violate department rules. He showed a photo that captured Rolfe allegedly kicking Brooks on the ground and Brosnan standing on the dying man’s shoulders.
The prosecutor said another use-of-force rule the officers violated reads, “Medical aid and/or assistance will be provided in a timely manner or as soon as practical without further endangering the employee or others.”
He said Brosnan and Rolfe waited for more than two minutes before they offered Brooks medical attention.
Rolfe has been fired from the police department while Brosnan has been placed on administrative leave.
Howard said Brosnan has agreed to testify against Rolfe and has admitted to stepping on Brooks after he was shot. But Brosnan’s attorney, Don Samuel, said that the officer has not agreed to testify, but is cooperating in the investigation and “is absolutely not guilty of any crime and will not plead guilty.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms earlier this week signed a series of administrative orders to tighten the police department’s use-of-force policies, including requiring officers to immediately report colleagues they witness violating the rules.
In an interview on ABC’s The View on Wednesday, Bottoms said Brooks’ shooting came three days after the city formed a task force to explore how to reform the use-of-force policies. The task force was to report back to the city in 15 days and submit a final report in 45 days, but that she decided not to wait before taking action following Brooks’ death.
“We don’t have another minute to spare,” Bottoms said. “We’ve got to have action right now and we needed it yesterday.”
The shooting came just days after six Atlanta police officers were criminally charged after they were caught on video forcibly pulling two college students out of a car, smashing its windows and using a stun gun in the course of arresting them as protests over the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis continued nearby.
Arrest warrants were issued for Lonnie Hood, Roland Claud, Mark Gardner, Armond Jones, Willie Sauls and Ivory Streeter for the caught-on-camera incident. Two of the officers, Gardner and Streeter, were fired and the others were placed on administrative leave.
Bottoms said an emphasis will also be placed on continuous de-escalation training for officers.
“De-escalation doesn’t start when you are arresting someone, de-escalation starts when you stop someone,” Bottoms said. “There are so many ways [the Brooks shooting] could have gone differently, and it didn’t.”
Michael R. Smith, a criminology professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told ABC News that the Atlanta Police Department’s use-of-force policy is similar to those of other large U.S. police departments.
“In terms of what this policy looks like, it’s a fairly standard policy,” said Smith, who is also leading a study on racial disparities in the use of force for the Fairfax County, Virginia, Independent Auditor’s office. “There’s no boilerplate, per se, in the sense that it’s not like there’s some database where police departments go and they pull down policies. All of them vary slightly from one to another, but there’s a lot of commonalities.”
He said the administrative order Bottoms signed requiring officers to report colleagues for violations of the policies is “a great idea.”
“I think it’s entirely appropriate that the Atlanta Police Department and any other police department for that matter revisit the idea of enshrining in policy a requirement that officers immediately report misconduct by other officers,” Smith said.
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