Protesters gather Monday at the state capitol in the southern U.S. state of Georgia, demanding criminal justice reforms and measures to address election problems.
The demonstrations were planned before an Atlanta police officer on Friday shot dead Rayshard Brooks outside a fast food restaurant. Brooks was shot after he apparently grabbed one of the officer’s Tasers and pointed it at the police as he tried to run off. He had been handcuffed after failing a breathalyzer test.
The killing was the latest in a string of deaths of African American men that have prompted nationwide protests seeking to address police misconduct and systemic racism.
A medical examiner in Fulton County, Georgia, has ruled Brooks’ death a homicide.
Brooks was cooperating with police officers during a sobriety test, but then struggled with the officers as they tried to arrest him and ran. The medical examiner’s autopsy found that Brooks was shot in the back twice and died from organ damage and blood loss.
Officer Garrett Rolfe has been fired, and the Atlanta police chief, Erika Shields, has resigned. A second officer, Devin Brosnan, has been placed on administrative leave.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told CNN his office will decide later this week what kind of charges, if any, Rolfe would face.
“(Brooks) did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable,” Howard said. “If that shot was fired for some reason other than to save that officer’s life or prevent injury to him or others, then that shooting is not justified under the law,” he added.
Shields resigned Saturday even as the investigation into the shooting had barely begun.
“I have served alongside some of the finest men and women in the Atlanta Police Department. Out of a deep and abiding love for this city and this department, I offered to step aside as police chief. … It is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Police dash and body cam video shows the 27-year-old Brooks asleep in his car and blocking the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant.
It took a few moments for Officer Rolfe to waken Brooks. The video shows the two having a cordial conversation, but Brooks didn’t seem to know what city he was in or what restaurant. At one point, Brooks told the officer “I know you’re just doing your job.”
When the second officer, Devin Brosnan, arrived, Brooks failed a breathalyzer, was handcuffed and appeared to resist arrest.
The officers wrestled him to the ground, demanded he stop fighting and warned Brooks that they would use a Taser on him. Brooks apparently grabbed one of the officer’s Tasers and pointed it at the police as he tried to run off. Rolfe opened fire and three shots could be heard as Brooks falls to the ground.
Fellow officers attempted to comfort Rolfe as an emergency team tended to Brooks, who was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The shooting set off a day of protests in Atlanta Saturday that started peacefully but turned violent. Demonstrators tried to block an interstate highway and the Wendy’s restaurant where Brooks was shot was burned to the ground.
Thirty-six people were arrested, and police are looking for the suspect who started the fire.
Fresh protests Sunday were largely peaceful.
A lawyer for the Brooks family, L. Chris Stewart, says he wants Rolfe to be charged with “an unjustified use of deadly force, which equals murder.”
“You can’t say a Taser is a nonlethal weapon … but when an African American grabs it and runs with it, now it’s some kind of deadly, lethal weapon that calls for you to unload on somebody,” Stewart said.
But the only African American member of the U.S. Senate, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, says more questions need to be asked.
“The question is when the suspect turned to fire the Taser, what should the officer have done?” Scott told CBS’s Face the Nation, adding that what happened in Atlanta “is certainly a far less clear one than the ones that we saw with George Floyd and several other ones around the country.”