June 18, 2020

Atlanta DA’s Politically Motivated Injustice

Fulton County DA charges cop in a transparent move to save his political career.

On Wednesday, Atlanta’s Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced that he is charging both police officers involved in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, including a charge of felony murder against Garrett Rolfe, the officer who shot Brooks. These charges should shock anyone familiar with the case, given that video footage clearly shows it was Brooks who initiated the altercation and violence that eventually resulted in his death. Indeed, as we argued previously, based on all available evidence, this appears to be a case of officers doing what they have been trained to do in response to a lethal threat. There is nothing from the known evidence to justify these charges, especially the felony murder count. So, why charge these officers?

The answer is dirty politics. In short, DA Howard, who has held his position since 1997, is fighting to maintain his political office during a runoff election in the Democrat primary. Charging the officers appears to be a clear play to appease to the local Black Lives Matter mob’s demand for police scalps and boost his reelection bid.

Adding to Howard’s tenuous political future is the fact that he himself is under scrutiny by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for allegedly illegally supplementing his income by funneling $140,000 to his salary from a nonprofit. He is also under investigation for sexual harassment. Given the tension with the GBI, Howard took the highly unusual step of charging officers Rolfe and Devin Brosnan prior to the conclusion of the GBI’s legally mandated investigation, and without informing the GBI he was announcing the charges.

In that announcement, Howard absurdly claimed: “At no time was Mr. Brooks ever a threat to anyone, including the officers in the Wendy’s parking lot. … Mr. Brooks never presented himself as a threat. … He was peacefully sleeping in his car. … He was calm, he was cordial, and really displayed a cooperative nature. … Even though Mr. Brooks was slightly impaired, his demeanor during this incident was almost jovial.” That assessment is completely detached from the reality of this incident.

Brooks, who has a long criminal record, was passed out intoxicated in the drive-through lane. When officers determined he was too intoxicated to drive (breathalyzer indicated 0.108, above the 0.08 legal limit) and attempted to handcuff him, he fought them to the ground. It is likely that Brooks attacked the officers because he was on probation after convictions for, among other things, Felony Cruelty/Cruelty to Children, and his arrest would violate that probation.

In the fight with officers, he took one officer’s taser and, when attempting to flee, turned and shot the taser at officer Rolfe, who returned fire. It should be noted here that “patting down” a suspicious person when first encountered does not constitute a thorough search for a weapon — in other words it was not clear Brooks did not have another weapon. Additionally, officer Rolfe immediately attempted to revive him, performing CPR as he can be heard saying on the body-cam video, “Mr. Brooks, keep breathing … keep breathing for me.”

Actions have consequences and in this case, deadly consequences.

Notably, DA Howard blatantly contradicted himself when he argued that Rolfe should not have fired his sidearm after Brooks fired the taser at him, because Brooks did not pose a deadly threat. Two weeks before the altercation with Brooks, Howard asserted, when charging another officer with aggravated assault for merely pointing a taser at a protester, “A taser is considered a deadly weapon under Georgia law.”

Finally, the fallout from Howard’s egregious decision was felt almost immediately, as police officers across the greater Atlanta area began a walkout, and other refused to work their shifts – “Blue Flu.” As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“There are officers walking off,” [Vince] Champion [Southeast regional director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers] said Wednesday evening. “There are officers saying they are not going to leave the precinct unless to help another officer. Some are walking off and sitting in their personal vehicles.” Champion said he has been told APD was attempting to get back-up support from adjacent law enforcement agencies. But he said some agencies declined to help. “Why would you put your officer in Fulton County and take the chance of this happening?” Champion said. “You have an officer who just heard what Paul Howard said, saying he’s going to be in prison for the rest of his life or put to death, and now he’s got to surrender.”

Unfortunately, the great irony is that those who will be hurt the most by Howard’s grotesque politically calculated decision will be the very folks living in the district he is charged to protect.


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