ATLANTA — A former neighbor is coming forward to support the former Atlanta police officer charged with the deadly shooting of Rayshard Brooks.
Garrett Rolfe, a white man, is charged with murder for shooting Brooks, a Black man, in a Wendy’s parking lot in southwest Atlanta in June. Rolfe was trying to arrest Brooks for driving drunk when Brooks snatched his Taser and ran away.
An African American entrepreneur who used to live next door to Rolfe sent a message on Twitter to Channel 2′s Michael Seiden in August. He wanted to speak about his experience with his former neighbor but wanted his identity concealed.
“What happened was tragic. I’m not going to sit here and say it wasn’t, but it’s definitely not racially motivated. It had nothing to do with race,” he said.
It’s been four months since the body camera video of the deadly encounter between Rolfe and Brooks sparked protests and unrest across Atlanta.
“I’ve probably watched that bodycam probably close to 40 different times. I still can’t wrap my mind around,” Rolfe’s former neighbor said.
“We lived two doors down from him,” he said.
He decided to speak out because he was disturbed by how his friend is being portrayed on social media.
“I just hate the whole fact that he’s being hung out to dry. Some racist police officer that didn’t shoot in self-defense,” he said.
He said he met Rolfe a year ago at their Buckhead apartment complex, where Rolfe served as the community officer. They talked weekly. He also told Channel 2 that Rolfe always answered his calls for help, especially when dealing with noisy neighbors.
“He was one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I think people are ready to jump to conclusions without finding out the facts and being put in the situation, especially with everything going on with the police right now,” he said.
For many, this shooting is another example of an unjust killing of an unarmed Black man. Two days after Brooks' death, the NAACP issued a statement, writing in part: “Rayshard Brooks did not deserve to die Friday night. The actions of the Atlanta Police Department underline a systemic issue that has plagued the Black community within this country for centuries.”
“I can’t say it was or wasn’t,” L. Chris Stewart, the attorney who is representing Brooks' widow Tomika Miller said.
She delivered a tearful plea in June, saying: “It’s just heartbreaking to even hear that because it’s the truth, and I just wish he could’ve made it. I wish they would’ve had sympathy or compassion."
Stewart said while it’s unclear if this shooting was racially motivated, some things are clear.
“There’s less value in pulling the trigger when the person running away is African-American," Stewart said. “I don’t know exactly what was going through his mind at that moment other than improper training. It just wasn’t a justified shooting.”
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard charged Rolfe with murder before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation completed its independent investigation, which is routine anytime an officer shoots a suspect.
Officer Devin Brosnan, who knocked on Brooks' window after finding him passed out in the Wendy’s drive-thru, is also charged in Brooks' death.
“I think the video tells you a lot," Stewart said. “They can’t say we couldn’t let him walk home. He was commanded to drive a vehicle. He was polite. He talked to them for a long time.”
Stewart said Brooks' widow wants Rolfe to stay in jail until his trial. But Rolfe’s supporters believe he’s already been convicted in the court of public opinion.
“He didn’t shoot anybody based on, out of fear of his race,” said Rolfe’s former neighbor.
He said he hopes Rolfe receives a fair trial.
“I would want somebody to do the same for me. Me, being who I am, I get that going on TV and saying this stuff may have a little backlash, but it’s the truth," the neighbor said.
There is a newly elected district attorney after Fanni Willis defeated Paul Howard in a runoff. Stewart said he believes she will proceed with the case. At this point, there is no trial date.
Rolfe’s legal team is fighting to get him his job back with Atlanta police.
Rolfe’s attorneys sent us this statement:
“We are not surprised by the statements of Garrett’s former neighbor as everyone we’ve interviewed has said positive things about him. Both personally and professionally, Garrett lives his life with honor and treats others with respect. Garrett worked with a diverse group of officers within the City of Atlanta Police Department and at the time of the incident he was in the process of attempting to buy a home through the Atlanta Police Foundation’s Secure Neighborhoods program so that he could enhance his engagement with the citizens of the City of Atlanta that he served. Garrett’s actions on June 12, 2020 were legally justified and we expect that he will be fully exonerated.”
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