An arrest warrant has been issued for a former Atlanta police officer on 11 charges, including murder and assault, in relation to the killing of African American man Rayshard Brooks in the US city.
Garrett Rolfe could face life without parole or the death penalty, a prosecutor said.
Brooks’ fatal encounter with police came after an employee of a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant in Atlanta phoned the authorities last Saturday to say someone had fallen asleep in his car in the restaurant’s drive-through lane.
The decision to prosecute came five days after the killing rocked a city – and a nation – already roiling from the death of George Floyd under a police officer‘s knee in Minneapolis late last month.
“Mr Brooks never presented himself as a threat,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul L Howard Jr announced on Wednesday, adding Brooks never showed aggressive behaviour.
“After he was shot, for some two minutes and 12 seconds, no medical assistance,” said Howard.
He said during that time, Rolfe kicked Brooks while he lay on the ground struggling for life.
Rolfe shot Brooks after the 27-year-old Black man grabbed a Taser and ran, firing it from too far away to reach the white officer, the prosecutor said. Plus, the Taser had already been fired twice, so it was empty and no longer a threat, Howard said.
Police officer Devin Brosnan, who was also on the scene, has become a state’s witness and will testify against Rolfe, Howard said – an unprecedented development in a case against a former police officer. But a lawyer for Brosnan said he has not agreed to be a prosecution witness and had not pleaded guilty to anything.
Brosnan faces three charges, including aggravated assault. Howard said Brosnan admitted he stood on Brooks’ shoulders after he was shot.
Brosnan’s lawyer, Amanda Clark Palmer, said the charges against him were baseless. She said Brosnan stood on the wounded man’s hand, not his shoulder, for a short period of time, seconds, to make sure Brooks did not have a weapon.
Howard said they are recommending Rolfe not receive bail.
Witnesses and videos
The investigation began at “1:15am on Saturday morning”, Howard said, “and has continued round the clock since that time.”
Howard, the first Black man elected a district attorney in Georgia, said authorities had the opportunity to speak with 10 witnesses to the killing. Enhanced surveillance videos were also viewed by authorities.
Although there was a 41-minute discussion between Brooks and the officers, “Mr Brooks was never informed that he was under arrest for driving under the influence,” Howard said. This is required by the Atlanta Police Department. The officers had established Brooks was not carrying a weapon.
Howard said Brooks “was calm, he was cordial”, his demeanour “almost jovial”.
Atlanta’s police chief, Erika Shields, resigned after the shooting last weekend.
Brooks’ killing prompted Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to state there was a “clear” need to review use-of-force protocols for the city’s police.
Brooks’ widow Tomika Miller said the revaelations about his last moments were painful.
“I felt everything that he felt just by hearing it,” she said tearfully at a news conference, “and it hurt”.
L Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Brooks’ family, said he was disappointed in the state of policing in the United States.
“We shouldn’t have to celebrate as African Americans when we get a piece of justice like today.”
‘I got him’
Howard noted that after Brooks had been shot, Rolfe exclaimed, “I got him!”
A coroner determined the killing to be a homicide, though this is typically for statistical purposes and not a legal decision.
Rolfe, who is white, was fired and Brosnan, also white, was put on administrative leave.
Atlanta residents took to the streets, chanting for the officers to be criminally charged – at one point late on Saturday blocking traffic on a nearby interstate highway – and the restaurant went up in flames.
Atlanta had already seen protests following Floyd’s death in May, part of the worldwide movement against racism and police brutality.
Demands for police reform have become a rallying cry for the movement.