Atlanta’s police department has said it can still police the city even if officers are calling in sick to protest against efforts to impose reforms.
“The Atlanta Police Department is able to respond effectively to 911 calls. Please don’t hesitate to call if you have an emergency,” the department tweeted.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also insisted that the police department would be able to operate effectively despite the reaction of some officers to her administrative orders calling for reforms to use of force policies and a comprehensive review of policing in Atlanta.
As Rayshard Brooks lay dying in a Wendy’s car park, prosecutors say the Atlanta police officer who shot him in the back kicked him and did not give him medical attention for more than two minutes.
Garrett Rolfe, who is white, shot Mr Brooks after the 27-year-old black man grabbed a Taser and ran, firing it at the officer, the prosecutor said.
The Atlanta Police Department is able to respond effectively to 911 calls. Please don’t hesitate to call if you have an emergency.
— Atlanta Police Department (@Atlanta_Police) June 18, 2020
But when the officer fired his gun, Brooks was too far ahead of him for the Taser to be a danger, and it had already been fired twice, so it was empty and no longer a threat, Paul Howard said.
“I got him!” Fulton County District Attorney Mr Howard quoted Rolfe as saying.
A lawyer for two witnesses said Thursday that the shooting could have been avoided and that officers need to be held accountable.
“As the video shows, this could have been avoided by just letting him run away, giving him another day, but instead a family has lost a father, a loved one, a friend,” lawyer Shean Williams said at a Thursday news conference.
“This community has lost a man.”
On Wednesday, the prosecutor announced a murder charge against Rolfe and an aggravated assault charge against a second officer, Devin Brosnan, who the district attorney said stood on 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 rocked by 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 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 Brooks “never presented himself as a threat” during a more than 40-minute interaction with officers before the shooting.
Mayor @KeishaBottoms issued two Administrative Orders related to transforming the @Atlanta_Police Department. The orders call for the adoption of reforms regarding APD’s use of force policies and a comprehensive look at how we police in Atlanta. Details: https://t.co/f7bTlzn5C4 pic.twitter.com/jqrTVzjVc1
— City of Atlanta, GA (@CityofAtlanta) June 16, 2020
An officer 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,” Mr 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.”
Ms 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”.
The Atlanta Police Department tweeted late Wednesday that it had more officers calling out than normal but that it had “enough resources to maintain operations & remain able to respond to incidents”.
The mayor said on CNN that many of the department’s partners had been notified in case they needed to call in others.
She said the true test would come on Thursday.
“If we have officers that don’t want bad officers weeded out of the force then that’s another conversation we need to have,” Ms Bottoms said.
The felony murder charge against Rolfe, 27, carries life in prison or the death penalty, if prosecutors decide to seek it.
He was also charged with 10 other offences punishable by decades behind bars.
The district attorney said Brosnan, 26, is cooperating with prosecutors and will give evidence.
But one of his lawyers, Amanda Clark Palmer, denied that and said Brosnan was not pleading guilty to anything.
Clark Palmer said the charges were baseless and that Brosnan stood on Brooks’ hand, not his shoulder, for just seconds to make sure he did not have a weapon.
A lawyer for Mr Brooks’ widow cautioned that the charges were no reason to rejoice.
“We shouldn’t have to celebrate as African Americans when we get a piece of justice like today. We shouldn’t have to celebrate and parade when an officer is held accountable,” lawyer L. Chris Stewart said.
Brooks’ widow, Tomika Miller, said it was painful to hear the new details of what happened to her husband in his final minutes.
“I felt everything that he felt, just by hearing what he went through, and it hurt. It hurt really bad,” she said.
The news came as Republicans on Capitol Hill unveiled a package of police reform measures and as states pushed forward with getting rid of Confederate monuments and other racially offensive symbols.
Mr Brooks’ killing Friday night sparked new demonstrations in Georgia’s capital against police brutality after occasionally turbulent protests over Mr Floyd’s death had largely died down.
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned less than 24 hours after Mr Brooks died, and the Wendy’s restaurant was burned.
Rolfe was fired, while Brosnan was placed on desk duty.
Police had been called to the restaurant over complaints of a car blocking the drive-thru lane.
Police body-camera video showed Brooks and officers having a relatively calm and respectful conversation before things rapidly turned violent when officers tried to handcuff him.
Brooks wrestled with officers, grabbed one of their stun guns and fired it at one of them as he ran through the car park.
Earlier suggestions that multiple officers from each zone had walked off the job were inaccurate. The department is experiencing a higher than usual number of call outs with the incoming shift. We have enough resources to maintain operations & remain able to respond to incidents.
— Atlanta Police Department (@Atlanta_Police) June 18, 2020
A post mortem found he was shot twice in the back.
One shot pierced his heart, the district attorney said.
At least one bullet went into a vehicle that was in line at the drive-thru.
The district attorney said Rolfe and Brosnan have until 6pm on Thursday to surrender.
He said he would request 50,000 US dollars bond for Brosnan and no bail for Rolfe.
A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research says more Americans today than five years ago believe police brutality is a very serious problem that too often goes undisciplined and unequally targets black Americans.
In the Minneapolis case, Derek Chauvin, the officer who put his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for several minutes, has been charged with murder.
Three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting.
All four were fired and could get up to 40 years in prison.