Updated at 6:20 p.m. Tuesday
Georgia’s attorney general on Tuesday denied a request from a newly elected district attorney to reassign the prosecution of two high-profile cases in which Atlanta police officers were accused of using excessive force, including the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.
In a letter to Attorney General Chris Carr last month, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis raised concerns that actions by her predecessor, Paul Howard, called into question the appropriateness of having her office continuing to handle the cases.
Carr rejected that argument, saying the concerns Willis raised have to do with Howard’s potential violation of a state bar rule and a potential criminal investigation into Howard’s actions.
“Both appear fairly obviously to be matters that are personal to your predecessor in office and that do not pertain to you or your office,” Carr wrote. “Therefore, from the concerns raised in your letter, it appears abundantly clear that your office is not disqualified from these cases by interest or relationship.”
None of the officers in either case have been indicted, though they were arrested last summer. Carr wrote that the responsibility for both cases remains with Willis and her office.
Willis’ spokesman Jeff DiSantis said in an email that Willis disagrees with Carr’s conclusion, which he said is “contrary to the longstanding practice and position” of the attorney general’s office in such cases.
He added that Willis “is dedicated to ensuring justice is done in these and all matters, and will handle these cases accordingly.”
The charges against officers in both cases were announced last summer as Howard was fighting to keep his job amid a Democratic primary challenge from Willis. Howard’s conduct, “including using video evidence in campaign television advertisements,” may have violated Georgia Bar rules, Willis wrote in her letter to Carr.
She also noted that Carr had asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate whether Howard improperly issued grand jury subpoenas in the Brooks case.
Howard has previously denied any political motivation or wrongdoing.
Police responded June 12 after receiving complaints that Brooks had fallen asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru lane. Police body camera video shows Officer Garrett Rolfe and another officer having a calm and respectful conversation with Brooks for more than 40 minutes. When the officers told Brooks he’d had too much to drink to be driving and tried to handcuff him, he resisted in a struggle caught on dash camera video.
Brooks grabbed a Taser from one of the officers and fired it at Rolfe as he ran away. Rolfe fired his gun and an autopsy found Brooks was shot twice in the back. Both officers’ lawyers have said their actions were justified and both were released on bond.
Howard announced charges, including felony murder against Garrett Rolfe, less than a week after Brooks’ death.
In the other case, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim were in a car stuck in downtown traffic on May 30 during protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota when they were confronted by police officers. Police body camera footage shows officers shouting at the couple, firing Tasers at them and dragging them from the car. Throughout the confrontation, the pair can be heard screaming and asking what they did wrong.
Howard announced charges against six officers within days.
Attorneys L. Chris Stewart and Justin Miller, who represent Brooks’ family and Pilgrim, and attorney Mawuli Davis, who represents Young, said their clients are left in “a state of limbo.”
“We believe that these officers should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, but it became abundantly clear through her recusal letter that the Fulton DA was not interested in prosecuting these cases,” they said in an emailed statement.
After being disappointed by Willis’ transfer request, they had hoped Carr would give the cases to a prosecutor who would pursue them vigorously, the lawyers said, adding that they plan to meet with Willis next week to discuss what happens next.