Atlanta police officer, fired after murder charge, is reinstated

The city board ruled in favour of Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, who was removed a day after he shot Rayshard Brooks.

Rayshard Brooks
Former Atlanta Police Department officer Garrett Rolfe conducting a field sobriety test on 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy's restaurant parking lot in a still image from the video body camera of officer Devin Bronsan in Atlanta, Georgia [Atlanta Police Department/Handout via Reuters]

The firing of a former Atlanta police officer charged with murder in the shooting death of an African American man has been reversed by a city employment board.

Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe was removed from the force in June, a day after he shot Rayshard Brooks in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant. Rolfe appealed to the Atlanta Civil Service Board which on Wednesday ruled he should be reinstated.

“Due to the City’s failure to comply with several provisions of the Code and the information received during witnesses’ testimony, the Board concludes the Appellant was not afforded his right to due process,” the board said in its decision, according to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal and other news outlets.

“Therefore, the Board grants the Appeal of Garrett Rolfe and revokes his dismissal as an employee of the APD.”

Lance LoRusso, a lawyer for Rolfe, said the effect of the board’s ruling would be that the police officer would not return to duty immediately but would remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of the charges against him.

Rolfe was charged after shooting Brooks twice in the back as he ran away from the police on June 12. Brooks, who had more than the legal limit of alcohol in his blood, had fallen asleep in his car, blocking the drive-through lane of a Wendy’s restaurant.

Police body camera video shows the 27-year-old Black man struggling with two white officers after they told him he had too much to drink to be driving and tried to arrest him. Brooks grabbed a Taser from one of the officers and fled, firing it at Rolfe as he ran. An autopsy found that Brooks was shot twice in the back, and the coroner ruled his cause of death was murder.

Demonstrators took to the streets after the incident and burned the Wendy’s restaurant. The city’s Chief of Police Erika Shields, fearing more violent unrest, resigned and Rolfe was dismissed and Brosnan was placed on administrative leave.

The Civil Service Board ruled Rolfe’s employment rights were violated because he was not afforded due process of an inquiry before he was removed.

“We find it mind-boggling they weren’t aware of the proper procedure,” said Chris Stewart, a lawyer representing Brooks’ family, asking whether Rolfe’s dismissal was “done to temporarily pacify the protestors and people around the world who were upset”.

“Right now, Officer Rolfe has received more justice than the family,” Stewart said at a press conference responding to the  board’s decision.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms released a statement justifying Rolfe’s abrupt dismissal.

“Given the volatile state of our city and nation last summer, the decision to terminate this officer, after he fatally shot Mr Brooks in the back, was the right thing to do,” Mayor Bottoms said.

“Had immediate action not been taken, I firmly believe that the public safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse,” she said.

Rolfe faces charges including murder and the mayor’s statement said the police department would conduct a follow up assessment of whether Rolfe violated department policies. The other officer, Devin Brosnan, was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath. Lawyers for both officers have said their clients acted appropriately, and they are free on bond.

Former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard brought the charges against Rolfe and Brosnan less than a week after the shooting.

“Mr Brooks never presented himself as a threat,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul L Howard Jr said announcing charges against Rolfe and Brosnan on June 18. Howard said Brooks never showed aggressive behaviour.

“After he was shot, for some two minutes and 12 seconds, no medical assistance,” said Howard.

Howard’s successor, Fani Willis, who took office in January, has twice asked Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to reassign the case, saying actions by Howard made it inappropriate for her office to continue handling the case. Carr has refused, saying the potential problems she cited were specific to Howard, so the responsibility for the case remained with her office.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher last month asked Willis to provide evidence showing why she should not be involved by this past Monday so that he can make a decision on the matter.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies