ATLANTA (AP) – While Rayshard Brooks was dying in a Wendy’s parking lot, prosecutors said the white Atlanta police officer who shot him in the back kicked him and gave him no more than two minutes of medical care.
“I got him!” Fulton County prosecutor Paul Howard quoted Agent Garrett Rolfe as saying.
Rolfe shot Brooks after the 27-year-old black man grabbed and ran a Taser, firing him from too far away to reach the white officer, the prosecutor said. In addition, the Taser had already been fired twice, so it was empty and no longer a threat, Howard said.
On Wednesday, he announced a murder charge against Rolfe and a serious charge against a second officer, Devin Brosnan, who, according to the prosecutor, stood on Brooks’ shoulder as he struggled for his life.
The decision to prosecute came less than five days after the murder rocked a city – and a nation – after the death of George Floyd squeezed by a police officer in Minneapolis late last month.
Rolfe’s lawyers said he feared for the safety of himself and others and was justified in shooting Brooks. Rolfe opened fire after he heard a sound “like a shot and saw a flash in front of him,” apparently from the Taser.
“Mr. Brooks violently attacked two agents and disarmed one of them. When Mr. Brooks turned and pointed an object at Agent Rolfe, any officer would have reasonably assumed that he intended to disarm, disable or seriously injure him. the lawyers said in a statement.
The prosecution said Brooks “never presented himself as a threat” during a 40-minute interaction with officers before the shooting. They found him asleep at the wheel of his car in the restaurant drive-in, and a breath test showed he was drunk.
“Mr. Brooks was calm on the night of this incident, he was cordial and really showed a cooperative spirit,” said Howard.
The charges reflect a possible “sea change” in tolerance to police violence, said Caren Morrison, a professor of law at Georgia State University, a federal prosecutor in New York.
“If they were to get a conviction, I feel that what they are saying is that the police, as we know them, need to change,” she said. “I don’t think this would have been charged five years ago.”
Morrison said the general opinion so far has been that officers are justified in using lethal force when the suspect has an anesthetic rifle or other weapon that could inflict “serious bodily harm” on them.
Atlanta police tweeted late on Wednesday that there were more police officers than usual, but that they had “sufficient resources to maintain operations and remain able to respond to incidents.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on CNN that many of the department’s partners had been notified in case they needed to enlist others. She said the real test would come on Thursday.
“If we have agents who don’t want bad agents to be taken out of battle, that’s another conversation we need to have,” Bottoms said.
The criminal charge of Rolfe, 27, carries prison life or the death penalty, if the prosecutors decide to look for it. He was also charged with ten other offenses that had been put behind bars for decades.
The prosecutor said Brosnan, 26, is working with prosecutors and will testify. But his lawyer, Amanda Clark Palmer, denied that, saying Brosnan pleaded not guilty to anything.
Palmer said the charges were unfounded and that Brosnan stood on Brooks’s hand for a few seconds, not on his shoulder, to make sure he didn’t have a weapon.
An attorney for Brooks’ widow warned that the charges were no reason to rejoice.
“We don’t have to celebrate as African Americans when we get a piece of justice like today. We don’t have to celebrate and parade when an officer is held accountable,” said attorney L. Chris Stewart.
Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, said it was painful to hear the new details of what happened to her husband in his last minutes.
“I felt everything he felt just by hearing what he was going through, and it hurt. It hurt a lot, “she said.
The news came as Republicans on Capitol Hill unveiled a police reform package and states continued to get rid of Southern landmarks and other racially offensive symbols.
Brooks’s murder on Friday night sparked new demonstrations in the Georgian capital against police brutality after occasional turbulent protests over Floyd’s death had largely subsided.
Atlanta police chief Erika Shields resigned within 24 hours of Brooks’s death and the Wendy’s restaurant being burned. Rolfe was fired, while Brosnan was on guard.
Police had been called to the restaurant over complaints of a car blocking the passageway. Police body-camera video showed Brooks and officers having a relatively calm and respectful conversation – “almost amiable,” the prosecutor said – before things quickly turned violent when officers tried to handcuff him. Brooks struggled with officers, grabbed one of their anesthetic guns, and fired it at one of them as he ran across the parking lot.
An autopsy revealed that he had been shot twice in the back. One shot pierced his heart, the prosecutor said. At least one bullet went into a vehicle lined up at the drive-thru.
The prosecutor said that Rolfe and Brosnan have until 6 pm. Thursday to surrender. He said he would ask $ 50,000 bail for Brosnan and no bail for Rolfe.
A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research says that more Americans today than five years ago believe that police brutality is a very serious problem that is too often undisciplined and unevenly targeted at black Americans.
In the Minneapolis case, Derek Chauvin, the officer who put his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes, has been charged with murder. Three other officers are charged with complicity. All four were fired and could face up to 40 years in prison.
Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala; Matt Ott in New York; Lisa Mascaro and Jim Mustian in Washington; and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report.
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