Atlanta police officer faces dubious murder charge

Garrett Rolfe, the Atlanta police officer who fired the shot that killed Rayshard Brooks, has been charged with murder, among nearly a dozen criminal counts. I await the analysis of those with more expertise in criminal law than I possess before reaching a definite conclusion. However, the murder charge strikes me as dubious, and I doubt that if the victim of the shooting had been white, such a charge would have been made.

Below is the statement of Rolfe’s defense attorney:

On June 12, 2020, a Wendy’s employee called 911 to report a man was passed out behind the wheel of his vehicle and blocking traffic in the drive-through. Officer Brosnan responded, and made contact with the driver, Rayshard Brooks. After determining alcohol may have been a contributing factor, he requested Officer Rolfe’s assistance. Officer Rolfe, a member of the High Intensity Traffic Team and the Governor funded HEAT Unit, has specialized training in DUI investigations. He has made at least 300 DUI arrests, and completed the 160-hour Drug Recognition Expert course, graduating as valedictorian. After a thorough investigation, Officer Rolfe determined Mr. Brooks was impaired and driving a vehicle in violation of Georgia law. Officer Rolfe was polite and courteous to Mr. Brooks during the entire encounter. Mr. Brooks was polite and cooperative until Officer Rolfe placed him under arrest.

Suddenly, without warning or provocation, Mr. Brooks chose to violently attack two uniformed police officers. Officers Brosnan and Rolfe used the least amount of force possible in their attempts to place Mr. Brooks into handcuffs. They attempted to leverage him to the ground while giving him loud, clear verbal commands. In response, Mr. Brooks continued actively resisting lawful efforts to arrest him. He then escalated his resistance by punching Officer Rolfe in the face committing several counts of felony obstruction of an officer. See O.C.G.A. §16-10-24. In an effort to place Mr. Brooks under arrest and stop his assault, Officer Rolfe lawfully deployed his TASER twice, but it had no effect on Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Brooks continued his assault and disarmed Officer Brosnan, stealing his city-issued TASER committing a robbery, another forcible felony under Georgia law. See O.C.G.A. §16-8-40 & O.C.G.A. §16-10-33 . Mr. Brooks, then armed, began running through a crowded parking lot. Mr. Brooks was lawfully under arrest and Officer Rolfe pursued him. Officer Rolfe had deployed his taser and held it steady in hopes the prongs would catch onto Mr. Brooks body and neutralize him. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur.

Instead of merely trying to escape, Mr. Brooks reached back with his arm extended and pointed an object at Officer Rolfe. Officer Rolfe heard a sound like a gunshot and saw a flash in front of him. Fearing for his safety, and the safety of the civilians around him, Officer Rolfe dropped his taser and fired his service weapon at the only portion of Mr. Brooks that presented to him – Mr. Brooks’ back. Officer Rolfe immediately stopped firing when Mr. Brooks fell to the ground since there was no longer an imminent threat towards Officer Rolfe or others. Officer Rolfe gathered himself, and then immediately called for EMS. Officer Rolfe retrieved first-aid supplies and began rendering aid to Mr. Brooks. When Mr. Brooks’ pulse stopped, Officer Rolfe immediately began CPR until EMS relieved him.

The loss of life in any instance is tragic. However, Officer Rolfe’s actions were justified under O.C.G.A. §17-4-20 and O.C.G.A. §16-3-21. A peace officer may use deadly force to 1. arrest a suspected felon when he reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of physical violence to the officer or others, 2. to protect himself and others from a life-threatening injury, and 3. to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Mr. Brooks violently attacked two officers and disarmed one of them. When Mr. Brooks turned and pointed an object at Officer Rolfe, any officer would have reasonably believed that he intended to disarm, disable, or seriously injure him.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation will complete an impartial investigation. Mr. Brooks’ family, the citizens of Atlanta, and Officers Rolfe and Brosnan, all desire a fair and thorough investigation including learning why Mr. Brooks suddenly turned violent. Officer Rolfe is well known to the courts and there is no compelling reason to bring any charges against them before the GBI has completed its investigation and published its findings.

(Emphasis added)

I think it’s pretty clear why Brooks suddenly turned violent. As Daniel Horowitz has pointed out, Brooks was a career criminal who was on probation and facing a parole revocation hearing.* He knew that an arrest — for DUI or any other offense — would have severe consequences for him. He said as much in an interview.

Discerning the reason why Brooks turned violent has no relevance I can think of to the issue of whether Brooks’ violence against the police justified his killing. But I point it out because in announcing his charge of murder, the Fulton DA. said that “for 41 minutes and 17 seconds [Brooks] followed every instruction, he answered the questions. [He] never displayed any aggressive behavior during the 41 minutes and 17 seconds. . . .”

Okay, and it’s a nice touch that the DA included those 17 seconds. But Brooks did display highly aggressive behavior once he realized that his alternative was to be taken into custody and, as a result, face severe consequences because of his record. It doesn’t matter how Brooks behaved before he decided that, no matter what, he couldn’t let the officers arrest him.

It seems to me that the Fulton County DA is blowing smoke.

The other officer involved, Devin Brosnan, faces three charges, but not for murder. In a statement, his attorney said that Brosnan is cooperating with the Fulton County District Attorney’s investigation. He also said this at the end of his recitation of the facts of the case:

The decision to initiate charges by the Fulton County DA’s office is irrational and obviously based on factors which should have nothing to do with the proper administration of justice.

This was not a rush to judgment. This was a rush to misjudgment. Shame on the District Attorney for this abuse of his charging power. Shame on the District Attorney for not honoring his oath to uphold the constitution. Shame on the District Attorney for this rush to misjudgment.

(Emphasis added)

Right now, that’s how it looks to me — with the “factors” in question being race and a desire to satisfy a political movement and the mob that backs it.

* In a properly functioning justice system, Brooks likely would have been jail. According to Horowitz:

He appears to have served only four months of a seven-year sentence in 2014 for charges and convictions of simple battery, cruelty to children, false imprisonment, family violence battery, receiving stolen property, criminal interference with government property, weapons charges, and obstructing a law enforcement officer in the preceding years.

In addition:

It looks like there were numerous probation violations until a parole officer issued a warrant for his arrest on December 20, 2018, when he had fled to Ohio. It’s not clear why he wasn’t put back in prison when he was returned to Georgia this past January, but it does appear he was supposed to report to the Clayton County Probation Office and was scheduled for a February 5 parole revocation hearing, according to court records.

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