In a blink of an eye

Russ Bynum & Brynn Anderson

ATLANTA (AP) – One minute, Rayshard Brooks was chatting cooperatively with Atlanta police, saying he’d had a couple of drinks to celebrate his daughter’s birthday and agreeing to a breath test. The next, they were wrestling on the ground and grappling over a Taser before Brooks took the weapon and ran. Seconds later, three gunshots sounded and Brooks fell mortally wounded.

Atlanta police video released on Sunday showing a seemingly routine sobriety check outside a Wendy’s restaurant that quickly spun out of control, ending in gunfire. The killing of the 27-year-old black man in an encounter with two white officers late Friday rekindled fiery protests in Atlanta and prompted the police chief’s resignation.

Police said on Sunday the department terminated Officer Garrett Rolfe, who fired the fatal shots, and officer Devin Brosnan was placed on administrative duty. Rolfe had worked for the department since October 2013, and Brosnan since September 2018.

Meanwhile, authorities announced a USD10,000 reward for information finding those responsible for setting fire to the Wendy’s restaurant at the shooting scene. Flames gutted the restaurant late Saturday after demonstrations grew turbulent. The protests prompted 36 arrests.

More than 100 people, some sporting umbrellas and rain gear after on-and-off rain, protested peacefully at the site on Sunday evening. Police blocked some side streets, slowing traffic in the area as people held up signs.

‘RIP Rayshard’ is spray painted on a sign as flames engulf a Wendy’s restaurant during protests in Atlanta. PHOTOS: AP
This screen grab taken from a body camera video provided by the Atlanta Police Department shows Rayshard Brooks speaking with Officer Garrett Rolfe in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant on June 12 in Atlanta
Protesters march near the Atlanta Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by police following a struggle in the restaurant’s drive-thru line

The two officers’ body cameras and the dash-mounted cameras in their patrol cars showed they spent more than 40 minutes peacefully questioning Brooks. The fighting erupted when they tried to handcuff Brooks.

Andy Harvey, Chief of Police of Ennis, Texas, who has written books and developed training on community policing, said such moments can turn in a split second.

“The moment you put your hands on someone is when someone will decide whether to comply or resist,” Harvey said. “That’s what happened in Atlanta.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will present the findings of its investigation to prosecutors. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said in a statement on Sunday he hoped to reach a decision by midweek on whether to bring charges against the officers.

The officers were called late Friday over complaints of a car blocking the restaurant’s drive-thru lane. Brosnan arrived first and found Brooks alone in the car, apparently asleep. Brooks agreed to move the car, showed his licence, and Rolfe arrived minutes later to conduct a sobriety check.

“I know you’re just doing your job,” Brooks said on video after consenting to a breath test. He mentions celebrating his daughter’s birthday and said: “I just had a few drinks, that’s all.”

Rolfe didn’t tell Brooks the results though his body camera recorded a digital readout of 0.108 – higher than the 0.08-gramme blood alcohol content considered too intoxicated to drive in Georgia.

“All right, I think you’ve had too much to drink to be driving,” Rolfe told Brooks. “Put your hands behind your back.”

The video showed each officer take hold of one of Brooks’ wrists as Rolfe tried to handcuff him. Brooks tried to run and the officers take him to the ground.

“Stop fighting!” one officer yelled. One of the dash cameras recorded the brawl. As Brooks fought to stand, Brosnan pressed a Taser to his leg and threatened to stun him. Brooks grabbed the Taser and pulled it away. He struggled to his feet, the Taser in his hand, and started running.

Rolfe fired his Taser and a yelp could be heard above the weapon’s electric crackle. Rolfe ran after Brooks, and seconds later three gunshots sounded.

Both officers’ body cameras were knocked to the ground in the struggle, and none of the four police cameras captured the shooting. Footage released from a Wendy’s security camera showed Brooks turn and point an object in his hand at one of the officers, who was steps behind him. The officer drew his gun and fired.

“As I pursued him, he turned and started firing the Taser at me,” Rolfe told a supervisor after the shooting in a videotaped conversation. “…He definitely did shoot it at me at least once.”

GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said on Sunday she could not confirm whether Brooks fired the Taser.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on Saturday she didn’t believe the shooting was justified. Police Chief Erika Shields, who joined the department as a beat officer in 1995, resigned.

Brooks’ death inflamed raw emotions in Atlanta and across the United States (US) following the May 25 police custody killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Some public officials questioned whether shooting of Brooks was as clearly an abuse as Floyd’s death after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck.

“The question is when the suspect turned to fire the Taser, what should the officer have done?” US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, said on CBS’ Face The Nation. Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican, said Brooks’s death “is certainly a far less clear one than the ones that we saw with George Floyd and several other ones”.

Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic lawmaker who gained national prominence while running for governor in 2018, said “there’s a legitimacy to this outrage” over Brooks’ death.

L Chris Stewart, a Brooks family attorney, said the officer who shot him should be charged for “an unjustified use of deadly force, which equals murder”.

Stewart said Brooks, a father of four, had celebrated the eighth birthday of one of his daughters.