New mayor likely to face controversial cases involving Atlanta police officers early in term

ATLANTA — Atlanta Mayor-elect Andre Dickens ran his campaign promising to make crime control his top priority — as did most of the major candidates.

But Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has found that two controversial cases involving officers with the Atlanta Police Department could create some awkward moments for the new mayor.

Both arose in the early days after George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis last year, and both are quietly working their way toward some kind of resolution.

The first incident involved six APD officers who stopped a car carrying two college students who had gone downtown for the George Floyd protests on May 30, 2020.

After the driver initially drove off, officers used a Taser on the students and yanked them from the car.

Public reaction was mostly outrage at the officers. The city fired Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter but mishandled the firings, so both officers were reinstated.

State Attorney General Chris Carr appointed Cherokee Circuit District Attorney Samir Patel as special prosecutor when the Fulton County DA asked to be removed from the case. Patel has said nothing publicly since he got the assignment in July 2021.

A case with even more potential for controversy is the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks two weeks after the Taser incident.

Brooks’ death attracted national attention, and it, too, is unresolved well over a year later.

Police bodycam video as well as security camera footage documented the incident in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant on University Avenue.

Officers Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan struggled with Brooks as they tried to arrest him for DUI.

Brooks fought them, grabbed Brosnan’s Taser, ran and fired the Taser at Rolfe, who shot and killed Brooks.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms called it murder well before the investigation was completed.

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In remarks to the Atlanta City Council three days after the incident, Bottoms said, “I was simply heartbroken at the murder of Mr. Brooks for so many reasons that it was abundantly clear to me that was simply not a justified use of force.”

The city fired Rolfe but mishandled it, so Rolfe was reinstated.

The attorney general appointed another outside prosecutor to investigate the case. Nearly five months later, that prosecutor, Pete Skandalakis of the State Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, has not said whether he intends to seek indictments against Rolfe and Brosnan, but after the special prosecutor took over, the officers’ attorneys told Belcher that their clients did not violate the law.

“I’m confident that he (Skandalakis) will do a full and fair investigation, and I’m confident that he will find that Devin Brosnan did nothing worthy of being prosecuted,” said Don Samuel in late July.

Rolfe’s attorney, Noah Pines, was similarly confident.

“The law is very clear that Garrett Rolfe had the legal justification to use deadly force in this case. it is what the law is. If people don’t like the law, they can get it changed,” Pines said.

For anyone to stand trial for a felony, he or she has to be indicted by a grand jury.

Then-Fulton County DA Paul Howard took out arrest warrants for the officers involved in both incidents, including a charge of murder for Rolfe, but he never asked the county’s grand jury to indict the officers.

Those decisions will come from Patel in the Taser case and Skandalakis in the Brooks case, but neither has said when he will announce his decision.

There are several options. The prosecutors could determine there’s not enough evidence for a grand jury to consider, which would be controversial.

Or they could seeks indictments but have the grand jurors refuse to return a so-called true bill. That would also be controversial.

If some or all of the officers are indicted, morale at APD could take another hit just as Dickens is trying to boost recruitment and put more officers on the streets.

All are possible headaches for a new mayor in a city where police misconduct remains a potent and divisive issue.

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