Two white Atlanta police officers who clashed with Rayshard Brooks acted reasonably during the 2020 encounter that ended with the 27-year-old Black man’s fatal shooting, a specially appointed prosecutor said Tuesday in announcing his decision not to pursue charges against the pair.
Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said Officer Garrett Rolfe, who shot and killed Brooks in June 2020, and Officer Devin Brosnan will not face any charges, saying they faced a “dynamic situation” that was “quickly evolving.”
“Given the quickly changing circumstances, was it objectively reasonable that he used deadly force? And we conclude it was,” Skandalakis said of Rolfe.
The shooting happened against the backdrop of heightened tensions and protests nationwide in wake of the death of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis less than three weeks earlier. Sometimes-violent protests over Floyd’s death had largely subsided in Atlanta, but Brooks’ killing set off a new round of demonstrations against police brutality.
Skandalakis said he believes that context is important and acknowledged that encounters between police and the African American community are sometimes “very volatile,” but he said he doesn’t believe race played a role in this instance.
“This isn’t one of those cases,” he said. “This is a case in which the officers were willing to give Mr. Brooks every benefit of the doubt and, you know, unfortunately, by his actions, this is what happened.”
On June 12, 2020, police responded to complaints of a man sleeping in a car in the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s restaurant. Police body camera video shows the two officers having a calm conversation with Brooks for nearly 40 minutes.
Then, when the officers told Brooks he’d had too much to drink to be driving and tried to arrest him, Brooks resisted in a struggle caught on dash camera video. Brooks grabbed a Taser from one of the officers and fled, firing it at Rolfe as he ran. Rolfe fired his gun, and an autopsy found that Brooks was shot twice in the back.
Police Chief Erika Shields resigned less than 24 hours after Brooks died, and protesters set fire to the Wendy’s, which was later demolished.
The two officers’ lawyers have said their actions were justified and both were released on bond.
“This was the proper and only decision that could be reached based upon the evidence and Georgia law,” Brosnan attorneys Don Samuel and Amanda Clark Palmer said in an emailed statement.
A lawyer for Rolfe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Skandalakis and former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, who was co-counsel in the case, spent about an hour during the news conference walking through the details of the encounter between Brooks and the two officers. Porter showed still images taken from videos to break down what happened once things turned violent.
Skandalakis called it “a peaceful encounter that all of a sudden becomes a violent encounter,” saying that once Brooks took the Taser from Brosnan, he assumed an offensive position.
Porter said Brooks had already overpowered two officers and violently brought them to the ground and Rolfe acted in accordance with Georgia law and Atlanta Police Department policy given the facts of the situation.
Rolfe was fired a day after the shooting, but his dismissal was overturned in May 2021 by the Atlanta Civil Service Board. The board found that the city failed to follow its own procedures for disciplinary actions.
Five days after Brooks was killed, then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard held a dramatic news conference to announce warrants had been taken out against Rolfe and Brosnan. Rolfe’s charges included felony murder, aggravated assault and violation of his oath. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath.
Skandalakis said Tuesday that he would file paperwork to dismiss those warrants.
Two months after he announced the charges, Howard lost the Democratic primary in his bid for reelection. Just weeks after taking office in January 2021, his successor, Fani Willis, asked Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to reassign the case.
Willis, who has since gained national attention for her ongoing investigation into whether former President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence the outcome of the 2020 election in Georgia, cited concerns about Howard’s actions.
Noah Pines, an attorney for Rolfe, had also filed a motion to disqualify the Fulton County district attorney’s office from the case.
Carr initially refused to reassign the case, but in July 2021 appointed Skandalakis to take it over after Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher found there was a conflict of interest and granted a request from Willis to recuse her office.