ATLANTA — Prosecutors announced Tuesday that two Atlanta officers who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks have been exonerated and will no longer face charges in his death.
The announcement comes more than two years after Brooks was killed during a confrontation outside an Atlanta Wendy’s on June 12, 2020.
Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia Executive Director Pete Skandalakis gave a detailed presentation on what led to his decision in a news conference Tuesday.
“You look at the totality of the circumstances. What did the officer know in that time, in that moment, in that split second,” Skandalakis said.
Skandalakis said the officers’ use of force was reasonable and they did not act with criminal intent. He said the charges against the officers will be dismissed.
Police said that on the night of June 12, Brooks fell asleep in the drive-thru line at the Wendy’s. When police responded, he struggled with officers, grabbed one officer’s Taser and tried to run away.
Officers Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan shot him to death after police say Brooks’ pointed the Taser at Rolfe’s head. Body camera video showed the events leading to Brooks’ death play out.
Rolfe was subsequently charged with 11 crimes including felony murder, aggravated assault and more. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and two counts of violation of oath of office.
Skandalakis said Tuesday that the department brought in outside experts to break down the video of the shooting frame-by-frame. The department also brought in experts in trauma and stress responses.
Skandalakis gave a detailed recap of officers’ attempts to arrest Brooks, saying Brooks overpowered the officers after an otherwise calm encounter that lasted around 90 minutes. The prosecutor said the officers received several injuries and that Brooks fired the Taser at them multiple times before the officers shot him.
Former Gwinnett DA Danny Porter, who analyzed the video, said Brosnan suffered a concussion as well as a shock from the Taser.
Porter said at that point they could have arrested Brooks on charges of aggravated assault of an officer, felony obstruction of law enforcement and several other charges.
Porter also addressed the issue that Brooks was shot in the back, saying that the analysis showed that while Brooks did have his back turned to the officers when he was shot, he was twisted around and still in the process of firing the Taser at the officers.
Prosecutors said Georgia officers are allowed to use deadly force if the suspect possesses a deadly weapon, and when the officer believes the suspect poses an immediate threat to officers or others.
“It’s my finding that Rolfe acted within accordance with Georgia law,” the expert said. “It’s my conclusion that the use of deadly force was reasonable.”
Lawyers for Rayshard Brooks’ family held a news conference later Tuesday afternoon, blasting the decision and saying the shooting was at least partially racially-motivated. The attorney argued that the officers should have just let Brooks run from the scene and then find him later
“You can’t catch a drunk guy on drugs running down Metropolitan Avenue? You have to shoot him in the back?” Brooks’ attorney said. “He should have been in jail. He should not be dead.”
Brooks’ attorneys said that at the least, the officers should have been tried in court, rather than by a special prosecutor.
Skandalakis said he did not believe the shooting was racially-motivated. He said he believes events happening nationally at the time were part of what sparked such a strong reaction to Brooks’ death in Atlanta.
Skandalakis said that while Brooks’ death happened around the same time George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, the two cases aren’t the same.
“This is not a case in which an officer was kneeling on a prone suspect for nine minutes, nor was it like the Ahmaud Arbery case, where armed citizens were chasing a young man through a neighborhood,” Skandalakis said.
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Atlanta police released a statement Tuesday about the decision to dismiss charges against Rolfe and Bronson, writing:
“We have faith in the criminal justice system, and we respect the special prosecutor’s decision in this case. Both Officer Garrett Rolfe and Officer Devin Brosnan are still employed with APD. They are currently on administrative duty. Both officers will undergo Georgia P.O.S.T. recertification and training.”
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens’ also issued a statement, saying,
“My heart continues to ache for the family of Rayshard Brooks. He was a father whose absence will forever be felt by our community. This matter was referred to the special prosecutor last year. I respect the independent role that the special prosecutor played in this case. Today, we received his decision. Over the last two years, our country has been engaged in important discussions about policing in America. We must maintain our commitment to the work of creating safe communities through collaboration between police and the people they serve. In Atlanta, we hold ourselves to the highest standards. Through engagement with community advocates, the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta Police Department and others, we have listened and moved forward proactively with significant reforms. The Department has reviewed its standard operating procedures and enhanced training on how to deescalate confrontations. We are continually investing in training to ensure our officers make up the most qualified and proficient force in the country. As Mayor, I remain committed to building the bonds of trust between our residents and the public safety personnel who serve us.”
In June 2022 two years after Brooks’ death, Skandalakis told Channel 2′s Mark Winne that he has three options when it comes to handling the two officers’ cases, one of which is not to move forward with prosecuting the officers at all.
He said one of the other two options was to present formal charges in the form of an indictment against one or both officers for a vote by a criminal grand jury. The other was to seek a special grand jury that would investigate and could recommend whether to send the case to a criminal grand jury for consideration of charges.
Skandalakis took the case over in 2021 from previous Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. Howard’s successor, Fani Willis, disqualified herself for a conflict of interest, and the attorney general appointed Skandalakis to take over.
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