On Friday night, a police officer shot and killed a 27-year-old black man, Rayshard Brooks, outside an Atlanta Wendy’s drive-through. The shooting followed a struggle that began after Brooks failed sobriety tests.
His death — caught on video from multiple sources, including a witness’s cell phone —triggered a new wave of demonstrations against police brutality in the city, and ultimately resulted in the resignation of Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields Saturday afternoon. The police officer who killed Brooks, Garrett Rolfe, has been fired, and the other officer involved in the shooting, Devin Brosnan, has been placed on administrative duty.
The incident has further galvanized anti-racism and police brutality protests in Atlanta, which had already seen large demonstrations in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis nearly three weeks prior.
According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), Atlanta police officers were called to the scene around 10:30 pm after receiving a complaint of a man sleeping in his vehicle, which was blocking the drive-through and forcing other cars to drive around it.
The police officers gave Brooks a field sobriety test, and he failed, according to investigators. The GBI claimed in an initial statement released Saturday — based on body camera footage and police and witness accounts — that this is what transpired following the testing:
After failing the test, the officers attempted to place the male subject into custody. During the arrest, the male subject resisted and a struggle ensued. 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.
The GBI later reported in an update that it had obtained surveillance from Wendy’s and reviewed a viral video captured by a witness’s cell phone that was posted to social media, saying video evidence showed Brooks grabbing the Taser and pointing it at an officer.
“These new videos indicate that during a physical struggle with officers, Brooks obtained one of the officer’s Tasers and began to flee from the scene,” the statement reads. “Officers pursued Brooks on foot and during the chase, Brooks turned and pointed the Taser at the officer. The officer fired his weapon, striking Brooks.”
What videos show about Brooks’s shooting
The body camera clips show the first part of the encounter. Brosnan, an officer who joined the police department in 2018, is the first law enforcement official on the scene. His body camera shows him going up to Brooks’s car and banging on the window until Brooks wakes up and opens the door. Brooks tells Brosnan he doesn’t need medical attention, and is just tired — Brosnan tells him to park and take a nap.
Brosnan returns to his squad car, saying, “I don’t want to deal with this dude right now.” When he returns, Brooks tells the officer he is in the area visiting his mother’s grave and also marking a series of birthdays, including his own and his girlfriend’s. Throughout the encounter, he appears slightly disoriented, unsure of exactly where he is. When Rolfe arrives and takes over the interview, Brooks said, “Mr. Rolfe, I couldn’t focus,” after telling the officer that he’s not feeling well and suggesting he rest more in his car.
Brooks takes a field sobriety test. Rolfe then tries to get Brooks to agree to a breathalyzer test, as Brooks repeatedly offers to leave his car parked and walk to his sister’s home, which he says is nearby. After a few minutes of discussion, Brooks agrees to the test, saying, “I don’t want to refuse anything.”
That test showed Brooks had a blood alcohol level of about .02 above the legal limit, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
After looking at the test results, Rolfe says, “I think you’ve had too much to drink to be driving,” and tells Brooks to put his hands behind his back. Brooks begins to do so, then leans forward — Rolfe and Brosnan grab his arms, and he begins to twist away from them.
It is difficult to tell what happens next from the officers’ body cameras; but dash camera clips show both officers tackling Brooks to the ground, then piling on top of him. Brooks continues to wiggle, and the officers yell, “Stop fighting, stop fighting,” and “You’re going to get Tased!”
Brooks says, “Mr. Rolfe,” as the men roll on the ground; the viral video shows this part of the struggle, and what appears to be an exchange of blows. The dash cam video shows Brooks standing after a time, a Taser in his hand. Rolfe appears to discharge his Taser; Brooks then turns and runs.
Surveillance camera video slowed down by the New York Times shows what happens next in exacting detail: Brooks, still running, begins to turn, the hand holding the Taser raised. He fires his Taser, but it does not connect with Rolfe, who draws his handgun and fires three shots. Brooks falls to the ground, not moving.
The officers seem to stand over the body as witnesses film with their phones. After about two minutes, one officer jogs back to the squad car as more police arrive. That officer returns with a bag and crouches next to Brooks; after about ten minutes, an ambulance arrives and takes Brooks to a hospital, where he died after surgery, according to the GBI.
Brooks’s death has sparked new protests — and change in the Atlanta Police Department
Ahead of the release of the body camera footage, Brooks’s family had challenged the official account of what happened. Saturday, an attorney for the family, L. Chris Stewart, said according to interviews his office conducted with witnesses, Rolfe and his partner did not give Brooks a sobriety test. The recently released clips show that Brooks did indeed have two sobriety tests, but back up another claim Stewart made — that the encounter began with Brooks in “civil” conversation with law enforcement outside his car.
At a Saturday press conference, Stewart also stressed that Brooks was unarmed until he took the Taser, and noted the weapon is a nonlethal one, saying, “[Rolfe’s] life was not in immediate harm when he fired that shot.”
And the lawyer said that video of the officers near Brooks in the first few minutes after the shooting does not show them checking on him, but collecting bullet casings — Stewart claims that it was not until an officer returned from his squad car with a bag, roughly two minutes after the shooting, that Brooks had his pulse checked.
The lethal shooting comes amid weeks of nationwide protests that began after a now-former Minneapolis police officer killed an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by placing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. And it follows a series of police shootings in Georgia — Brooks’s killing is the 48th officer-involved shooting that the GBI has been called upon to investigate so far this year.
Ahead of his death, protesters gathered in the city as part of that nationwide movement; early Saturday, they gathered outside the Wendy’s where Brooks was killed, chanting, “No justice, no peace.”
Protests continued throughout the day Saturday, and at the Wendy’s, Decatur Redd, a relative of Brooks, expressed shock to reporters.
“I’ve watched this on the internet, from the whole George Floyd situation, to us coming together like we’re doing — and this whole thing landed on my doorstep with my little cousin,” Redd said, according to CNN. “I thought Atlanta was higher than that. I thought Atlanta was bigger than that.”
Rev. James Woodall, state president of the Georgia NAACP, called for Shields to be fired.
“This is not the first time a black man has been killed for sleeping,” Woodall said, according to the Washington Post. “While Atlanta is often called ‘the Black Mecca,’ the Atlanta Police Department has a continued history of antagonizing our communities.”
Shields responded to this demand, and those of other activists, by tendering her resignation Saturday afternoon.
“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 and rebuilding the trust that is desperately needed throughout our communities,” Lance Bottoms said at a press conference Saturday evening.
Stacey Abrams, a former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, also called for action.
“The killing of #RayshardBrooks in Atlanta last night demands we severely restrict the use of deadly force,” Abrams tweeted. “Yes, investigations must be called for — but so too should accountability. Sleeping in a drive-thru must not end in death.”
Bottoms said she agreed Saturday — shortly after she called for Rolfe’s firing, he was terminated. Brosnan has been placed on administrative duty.
Demonstrations continued following that termination, with a gathering on an interstate and about 1,000 people protesting near the site of Brooks’s killing, according to the Atlanta Fire Department. During that protest, a fire broke out at the restaurant after agitators broke windows and threw fireworks inside, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The fire was put out by the department, and officers made a number of arrests, with protests expected to continue throughout the week.
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