(USA Today, AP)
An Atlanta police officer involved in the death of a Black man at a fast-food restaurant has been fired and another placed on administrative duty, authorities confirmed early Sunday.
The moves follow Saturday resignation’s of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, who stepped down as the Friday night killing of Rayshard Brooks, 27, sparked a new wave of protests in Atlanta after turbulent demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis had simmered down.
The terminated officer was identified as Garrett Rolfe, who was hired in October 2013, Atlanta Police Department Sergeant John Chafee told USA TODAY. The other officer placed on administrative duty is Devin Bronsan, who was hired in September 2018.
According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Brooks, 27, was shot by an officer while fleeing during a struggle at a Wendy’s drive-thru late Friday. Brooks had been asleep in his car at the drive-thru, causing other customers to drive around the car, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.
Police were dispatched to the Wendy’s around 10:30 p.m. and conducted a sobriety test on Brooks, who failed the test, according to the officials.
“During the arrest, the male subject resisted and a struggle ensued,” the Bureau of Investigation said. “The officer deployed a Taser. Witnesses report that during the struggle the male subject grabbed and was in possession of the Taser. It has also been reported that the male subject was shot by an officer in the struggle over the Taser.”
One officer was treated for an injury and discharged after the confrontation. Brooks died in the hospital after surgery.
Hours after Shields stepped down, protesters set the fast-food restaurant on fire after clashing with police and National Guards troops.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who announced the police chief’s resignation, also called for the termination of the police officer who shot Brooks and for another officer to be placed on administrative duty.
“While there may be debate as to whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, I firmly believe that there is a clear distinction between what you can do and what you should do. I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force,” Bottoms said.
Bottoms said Shields would continue in a different role “to be determined” in the police department.
“To the family of Mr Brooks, there are no words strong enough to express how sincerely sorry I am for your loss. I do hope that you will find some comfort in the swift actions that have been taken today,” she said.
Bottoms called Shields a “solid member of APD for over two decades.”
“And because of her desire that Atlanta be a model of what meaningful reform should look like across this country, Chief Shields has offered to immediately step aside as police chief so that the city may move forward with urgency in rebuilding the trust so desperately needed throughout our community,” Bottoms said.
On Saturday night, several hundred people gathered in the parking lot of the Wendy’s where Brooks encountered the police. Some chanted “say his name” and carried signs that read “He didn’t deserve to die” and “convict the killer cop.” The restaurant was closed to patrons.
Tyler Brown, 29, said he was one of the first protesters to arrive at Wendy’s Saturday morning after learning about Brooks’ death on social media. Brown, who lives just a few blocks away, said, the community is baffled at why the officer felt the need to kill Brooks.
“Honestly I’m tired of it,” Brown said. “No matter what you do, you’re unarmed, you’re not a threat, you’re down on the ground in handcuffs, and they still feel the need to put the knee on your neck or shoot you.”
Kayla Pruitt, 24, of Atlanta, said the cries from protesters in recent weeks seem to have fallen on deaf ears with police.
“We’ve been out here for a couple weeks now and y’all still killing folks,” said Pruitt, who arrived Saturday at the Wendy’s to protest police violence. “It’s like have y’all heard nothing anybody has said?”
The peaceful protest suddenly turned violent around 8:30 p.m. after National Guard troops arrived toting guns. Some protesters began surrounding one police car and rocking it. Other protesters surged on the police and troops without touching them, forcing the law enforcement officials to walk backwards from the crowd. After a few minutes, the law enforcement officials released several canisters of tear gas into the crowd, sending the protesters fleeing in panic.
Protesters later shut down an interstate highway in both directions and set fire to the Wendy’s restaurant where Brooks was fatally shot the night before, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It’s unclear why Brooks was sleeping in his car at the drive-thru Friday night.
Wendy’s surveillance video published by the Bureau of Investigations Saturday afternoon appears to show officers arriving in a vehicle to the drive-thru parking lot. The vehicle can be seen pulling up to another car, but the officers and Brooks cannot be seen in the video.
About half an hour later, Brooks can be seen running away from two officers, who chase after him. As Brooks runs away, he turns back toward one officer and points the Taser, and that officer fires his weapon. Brooks falls to the ground and appears to remain motionless.
As the two officers approach Brooks on the ground, bystanders can be seen getting out of their cars and recording video.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said Saturday afternoon the agency had gathered surveillance video from the Wendy’s, police bodycam video and bystander video posted to social media. The agency had spoken with at least one witness, who corroborated the videos, Reynolds said.
“It does appear in the video that he is fleeing from the Atlanta police officers,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said he not sure how many shots were fired. He did not comment on whether the officer’s use of force was appropriate.
“We have not digitally enhanced that video yet. We will,” Reynolds said.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, Jr. said in a statement Saturday that his office had launched an “intense, independent” investigation of the incident, and that members of his office were on the scene shortly after the shooting.
“Our thoughts and our sympathies are extended to the family of Rayshard Brooks as we must not forget that this investigation is centered upon a loss of life,” Howard said.
Bystander video of Brooks’ encounter with the police began to circulate on social media Friday night. USA TODAY could not independently verify the video.
Brooks’ death comes amid thousands of protests worldwide against police killings of Black people following the death of Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes on Memorial Day.
In a statement Saturday, the Georgia NAACP called for Shields and Bottoms to be held “accountable for the continued threat on innocent Black lives in their community.”
“Atlantans woke up to disturbing videos and reports of Rayshard being killed by the Atlanta Police Department. At this time, we must address the over-saturated police presence in Atlanta’s Black communities. This is not the first time a Black man was killed for sleeping,” the organization said in a statement. “The City of Atlanta must address this not only with their words, but also with their actions and budgetary decisions.”
Stacey Abrams, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, condemned the shooting on Twitter Saturday morning.
“The killing of #RayshardBrooks in Atlanta last night demands we severely restrict the use of deadly force. Yes, investigations must be called for – but so too should accountability,” Abrams wrote. “Sleeping in a drive-thru must not end in death.”
Bernice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., said on Twitter that Brooks’ death “reflects that low to no value was placed on his life.”
“Bottom line: #RayshardBrooks should be alive,” she wrote. “Rayshard’s life shouldn’t have even been endangered by a call to police because he was sleeping in his car in a drive thru. I’m learning more and talking with community.”
Outside the Wendy’s, Jonte Trotter said he traveled to Atlanta from Oakland, California, earlier this week to join the ongoing protests here. He said he was frustrated that police officers continue to use unnecessary force on Black men.
“It just shows that as a Black man myself, my life holds no value,” said Trotter, 23, before police began clashing with the crowd. “I can be killed at any time and it will be another hashtag, another protest. There’s no automatic justice over my life.”
Officials in Georgia have also attracted scrutiny in recent months for their handling of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. In February, 25-year-old Arbery, who was Black, was fatally shot by three white men while out jogging about two miles from his home in a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Georgia. It took more than two months for murder charges and arrests in Arbery’s case,which was eventually handed over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.
“I was just thinking ironically it was about a month or so ago I stood in front of you upstairs as the GBI got involved in the Arbery matter down in Brunswick,” Reynolds said Saturday. “As with the Arbery matter in Brunswick, we will ask again for the community’s patience.”
In all, the bureau has investigated 48 officer-involved shootings this year, Nelly Miles, a bureau spokesperson, told USA TODAY.
Ibram X. Kendi, whose book “How to Be an Antiracist” hit No. 1 on the hardcover nonfiction list after Floyd’s death as Americans sought to educate themselves about the nation’s racist systems, tweeted that Brooks should not be blamed for his death.
“I suspect racist Americans will argue #RayshardBrooks shouldn’t have ran; he made the officers fear for their lives; his unarmed back threatened them; so they had to shoot him in the back. Or, we’ll hear about apples when another murderous tree has fallen,” he said.
Former Police Chief Erika Shields released a statement Saturday offering her “deep and abiding love” for Atlanta.
“I have faith in the mayor, and it is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” she said.
Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Rodney Bryant will serve as the interim chief, Bottoms said.