Officers won’t face any charges in Rayshard Brooks shooting
Updated at 3:40 p.m.
A specially appointed prosecutor announced Tuesday that he will not pursue charges against the two white Atlanta police officers who clashed with Rayshard Brooks during a 2020 encounter that ended with the 27-year-old Black man’s fatal shooting.
Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said he believes Officer Garrett Rolfe, who shot and killed Brooks in June 2020, acted appropriately. He also said the second officer involved in the encounter, Officer Devin Brosnan, will not be charged.
“Given the quickly changing circumstances, was it objectively reasonable that he used deadly force? And we conclude it was,” Skandalakis said.
Skandalakis was appointed last year to take over the case after a judge allowed Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to recuse herself and her office. Willis had cited concerns about the actions of her predecessor, who announced a murder charge against Rolfe less than a week after the shooting.
Police responded on June 12, 2020, to complaints of a man sleeping in a car in the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s restaurant. Police body camera video shows the two officers having a calm conversation with Brooks for nearly 40 minutes.
Then, when the officers told Brooks he’d had too much to drink to be driving and tried to arrest him, Brooks resisted in a struggle caught on dash camera video. Brooks grabbed a Taser from one of the officers and fled, firing it at Rolfe as he ran. Rolfe fired his gun, and an autopsy found that Brooks was shot twice in the back.
The two officers’ lawyers have said their actions were justified and both were released on bond.
The shooting happened against the backdrop of heightened tensions and protests nationwide in wake of the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis less than three weeks earlier.
Sometimes-violent protests over Floyd’s death had largely subsided in Atlanta, but Brooks’ killing set off a new round of demonstrations against police brutality. Police Chief Erika Shields resigned less than 24 hours after Brooks died. Protesters set fire to the Wendy’s restaurant, which was later demolished.
Skandalakis said he believes that context had an impact on how the events unfolded and acknowledged that encounters between police and the African American community are sometimes “very volatile,” but he said he doesn’t believe race played a role in this instance.
“This isn’t one of those cases,” he said. “This is a case in which the officers were willing to give Mr. Brooks every benefit of the doubt and, you know, unfortunately, by his actions, this is what happened.”
Skandalakis and former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who was co-counsel in the case, spent about an hour during the news conference walking through the details of the encounter between Brooks and the two officers. Porter showed still images taken from videos to break down what happened once things turned violent.
Skandalakis called it “a peaceful encounter that all of a sudden becomes a violent encounter,” saying that once Brooks took the Taser from Brosnan, he assumed an offensive position.
Porter said Brooks had already overpowered two officers and violently brought them to the ground and Rolfe acted in accordance with Georgia law and Atlanta Police Department policy given the facts of the situation.
Rolfe was fired a day after the shooting, but his dismissal was overturned in May 2021 by the Atlanta Civil Service Board. The board found that the city failed to follow its own procedures for disciplinary actions.
Five days after Brooks was killed, then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard held a dramatic news conference to announce warrants had been taken out against Rolfe and Brosnan. Rolfe’s charges included felony murder, aggravated assault and violation of his oath. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath.
Skandalakis said Tuesday that he would file paperwork to dismiss those warrants.
Two months after he announced the charges, Howard lost the Democratic primary in his bid for reelection. Just weeks after taking office in January 2021, his successor, Fani Willis, asked Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to reassign the case.
Willis, who has since gained national attention for her ongoing investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence the outcome of the 2020 election in Georgia, cited concerns about Howard’s actions.
Noah Pines, an attorney for Rolfe, had also filed a motion to disqualify the Fulton County district attorney’s office from the case.
Carr initially refused to reassign the case, but in July 2021 appointed Skandalakis to take it over after Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher found there was a conflict of interest and granted a request from Willis to recuse her office.
Mayor of Atlanta Andre Dickens offered the following statements in a press release distributed shortly after Skandalakis’ ruling:
“My 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.”
Jonathan Lykes, the executive director of the local advocacy group Liberation House, joined WABE’ s “All Things Considered” to discuss the decision. . Lykes was AT the scene at the University Avenue Wendy’s two years ago, during protests less than 24 hours after Brooks was killed. The restaurant was completely engulfed in flames.
WABE’s legal analyst Page Pate also watched today’s press conference.
Lily Oppenheimer contributed to this report.