As Rayshard Brooks lay dying in a Wendy’s parking lot, prosecutors say the white Atlanta police officer who shot him in the back kicked him and didn’t give him medical attention for more than two minutes.
“I got him!” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard quoted Officer Garrett Rolfe as saying.
Rolfe shot Mr Brooks after the 27-year-old black man grabbed a Taser and ran, firing it from too far away to reach the white officer, the prosecutor said.
Plus, the Taser had already been fired twice, so it was empty and no longer a threat, Howard said.
On Wednesday (local time), he announced a murder charge against Rolfe and an aggravated assault charge against a second officer, Devin Brosnan, who the district attorney said stood on Mr Brooks’ shoulder as he struggled for his life.
The decision to prosecute came less than five days after the killing rocked a city — and a nation — already roiling from the death of George Floyd under a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis late last month.
Rolfe’s lawyers said he feared for his and others’ safety and was justified in shooting Mr Brooks. Rolfe opened fire after hearing a sound “like a gunshot and saw a flash in front of him,” apparently from the Taser.
“Mr Brooks violently attacked two officers and disarmed one of them. When Mr Brooks turned and pointed an object at Officer Rolfe, any officer would have reasonably believed that he intended to disarm, disable or seriously injure him,” the lawyers said in a statement.
The prosecutor said Mr Brooks “never presented himself as a threat” during a more than 40-minute interaction with officers before the shooting. They found him asleep behind the wheel of his car in the restaurant’s drive-thru, and a breath test showed he was intoxicated.
“Mr Brooks on the night of this incident was calm, he was cordial and really displayed a cooperative nature,” Howard said.
The charges reflect a potential “sea change” in tolerance for violence by police, said Caren Morrison, a Georgia State University law professor who used to be a federal prosecutor in New York.
“If they were to get a conviction, I feel like what they’re saying is that policing as we know it needs to change,” she said.
“This I think five years ago wouldn’t have been charged.”
Morrison said the view until now has generally been that officers are justified in using deadly force when the suspect has a stun gun or other weapon that could cause them “grievous bodily harm.”
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