Rayshard Brooks’ death ruled homicide, protesters demand change

Jun 15, 2020, 10:53 AM
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 14: A man kneels at the memorial for Rayshard Brooks on June 14, 2020 in Atlanta...
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 14: A man kneels at the memorial for Rayshard Brooks on June 14, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. The memorial is found at the ste of the Wendy's restaurant which was set ablaze overnight. Rayshard Brooks, 27, was shot and killed by police in a struggle following a field sobriety test at the Wendy's on June 12th. (Photo by Dustin Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Chambers/Getty Images)

    (CNN) — Nationwide rallies denouncing police brutality after the death of George Floyd weren’t even over when protesters had to mourn the death of another black man at the hands of police.

This time, the killing was in Atlanta. Rayshard Brooks, 27, was shot twice in the back, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office said. His death was ruled a homicide.

Hours after the killing Friday night, Atlanta police chief Erika Shields stepped down. The officer who shot Brooks, Garrett Rolfe, was fired. Another officer at the scene, Devin Brosnan, was put on administrative duty.

On Monday morning, protesters flooded streets in downtown Atlanta decrying Brooks’ death and demanding an end to systemic racism.

They also called for an end to Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, which made national headlines after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man killed in southeast Georgia while jogging.

Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, said everyone should be grieving those who died by abuse of authority.

“Rayshard Brooks is everybody. Just like George is everybody. We are all the people, we are all God’s children,” Miller told “CBS This Morning.”

“We should feel the pain of those who lost their life to senselessness over authority being taken way overboard.”

She said she wants the officers at the scene to go to jail.

How the encounter started

Police responded to a call Friday night about a man sleeping in a car at a Wendy’s drive-thru and began talking with Brooks. Authorities say he failed a sobriety test.

One of the officers tried to arrest him, which led to a struggle between Brooks and two officers, footage of the incident shows. Brooks took an officer’s Taser during the struggle and then pointed it at one of the officers as he ran away. That officer then shot Brooks three times, authorities said.

He was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after, authorities said.

Family attorneys, the district attorney and the mayor said the Brooks should not have been killed. For more than 20 minutes, Brooks responded to questions calmly and complied with officers’ requests before they tried to arrest him.

“It’s very difficult when you see (the video), when you see the demeanor of Mr. Brooks, to imagine that some short time later, it ends up with him being dead,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Sunday.

Brooks leaves behind three young daughters and a teenage stepson.

What should the officer have done?

Early in the encounter, an officer asked Brooks if he could pat him down, and Brooks agreed.

The fact that Brooks was unarmed is important, CNN Law Enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey said.

“Now you know he’s not in possession of a firearm or any other deadly weapon,” said Ramsey, a former Philadelphia police commissioner.

After Brooks stole the officer’s Taser and ran away, “it looks like he may have even fired the Taser at some point in time,” Ramsey said.

But it’s unlikely Brooks would have been able to use the Taser a second time, Ramsey said.

“Once you fire the Taser, it has to recycle before it can be used again,” he said. “I would doubt very seriously if most citizens would even know how to operate a Taser.”

So instead of shooting Brooks, Ramsey said the officer could have continued the foot pursuit, “get on a radio and call for some assistance.”

“You’ve got the car. You’ve asked for his driver’s license. You know who he is. So even if you don’t get him right now, you can get him later,” Ramsey said.

“The need to immediately apprehend is taken away. And you can only use deadly force under certain, very narrow circumstances,” such as if the officer’s life or anyone else’s life is in danger, or if the person being pursued poses a serious danger to the public.

“That’s not the case here,” Ramsey said.

Brooks died from organ damage and blood loss from the two gunshot wounds, the medical examiner’s office said.

A decision on possible charges could come Wednesday

Howard, the top prosecutor in Fulton County, said possible charges against Rolfe could include murder, felony murder or voluntary manslaughter. He said a decision could come by Wednesday.

“What we’re trying to determine is, at that time, whether or not the officers felt their lives were in danger — specifically officer Rolfe, whether or not he felt that Mr. Brooks, at that time, presented imminent harm of death or some serious physical injury,” Howard said.

“Or the alternative is whether or not he fired the shot simply to capture him or some other reason. If that shot was fired for some reason other than to save that officer’s life or to prevent injury to him or others, then that shooting is not justified under the law.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she didn’t believe the killing was justified. She said after watching the police body camera footage, she didn’t find the initial interaction confrontational.

“Even knowing the end, watching the video you are just going, just let him go, just let him go, let him call somebody to pick him up,” she said during a CNN town hall Sunday.

She called Brooks “a guy you were rooting for.”

‘The straw that broke the camel’s back’

Over the weekend, protesters in Atlanta grieved the death of another black person at the hands of police. Newly painted signs that demanded justice for Brooks were added on to signs that had also demanded justice for Floyd and others who died from police brutality.

“I’m angry because I’m an African American female, I’ve lived this experience, my family’s lived this experience, I’m just sort of more happy that people are now understanding and seeing what people have been saying for a long time,” one protester told CNN affiliate WSB.

“I believe that this incident and all the ones that led up to it, sort of piled on each other, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.

Late Saturday night, the Wendy’s where Brooks was shot and killed was quickly engulfed by flames after it was lit on fire during protests. Firefighters took more than an hour to reach the building as it was surrounded by crowds.

Police now say they’re on the hunt for the people responsible for the blaze and are offering $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

What newly released footage shows

Videos from police, the store and witnesses help piece together Brooks’ last moments alive.

Brosnan was wearing a body cam when he arrived first at the scene as Brooks was apparently asleep in his vehicle in the Wendy’s drive-thru lane. Brooks appeared disoriented, but after a brief conversation he moved the vehicle to a parking spot.

Rolfe arrived shortly after, questioned Brooks and began a field sobriety test. Brooks asked, “What should I do, sir?” Shortly after, the officer used a breathalyzer test and Brooks went on to say he had been drinking and that it was his daughter’s birthday.

Family attorneys said Brooks spent much of Friday with his 8-year-old daughter to celebrate her birthday. He took her to get her nails done and the two shared a meal together. They had planned to go skating Saturday.

Rolfe told Brooks, “I think you’ve had too much to drink to be driving” and tried to arrest him, but Brooks resisted.

Three separate videos captured different parts of the next few moments: a struggle between the three men and Brooks running away with a Taser.

As Brooks ran away, he turned around and appeared to point the Taser at Rolfe, who unholstered and fired his handgun.

“What happened in that moment when (Brooks) resisted doesn’t allow a police officer to become judge, jury and executioner,” Brooks family attorney L. Chris Stewart said.

“We watch videos all the time where it’s a Caucasian individual or a person of a different race that resists and lives. We’ve watched videos of a person go do a mass shooting and live,” Stewart said.

“There was absolutely no reason for him to die because he resisted and ran away.”

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Rayshard Brooks’ death ruled homicide, protesters demand change