Charging two Atlanta police officers in Rayshard Brooks’ death is only the first step in a long and uncertain road to a conviction, a family attorney said.
Former officer Garrett Rolfe faces felony murder and 10 other charges after he shot Brooks at a Wendy’s drive-thru last week. Prosecutors allege that he declared, “I got him” after firing the shots and he did not provide medical attention for two minutes and 12 seconds.
“That officer actually kicked Mr. Brooks while he laid on the ground, while he was there fighting for his life,” Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Wednesday.
The second officer, Devin Brosnan, faces an aggravated assault charge for allegedly standing on the prostrate Brooks’ shoulders in the parking lot, which he denies.
Rolfe turned himself in Thursday afternoon, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department said. Rolfe, who is being held without bond, is expected to be in court on Friday at noon, according to emails sent to CNN from his attorney’s spokesperson and the Fulton County Clerk’s Office.
Brosnan turned himself in to the Fulton County Jail and was released Thursday afternoon.
Brosnan was released on a signature bond about an hour after presenting himself at the jail and will not be required to wear a GPS anklet, defense attorney Don Samuel said. The officer did not speak to reporters as he left the jail.
Brosnan told MSNBC on Thursday: “I think this is a tragic event. It’s a total tragedy that a man had to lose his life that night.”
Brooks’ widow said Wednesday the details of her husband’s final moments left her appalled, and she had to leave the room more than once as Howard laid out the allegations, her attorney said.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I would have seen it for myself. But I felt everything he felt just by hearing what he went through. And it hurt. It hurt really bad,” Tomika Miller said.
Brooks’ family members are preparing for his funeral. He leaves behind three daughters and a stepson.
Charges are just a first step, attorney says
The death of another Black man at the hands of police led to another wave of protests against police brutality.
The officers had gone to the fast-food restaurant to respond to a complaint that Brooks, 27, was parked and asleep in the drive-thru lane. He failed a sobriety test, and when the officers tried to arrest him he scuffled with them and grabbed Brosnan’s Taser, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said.
In a video of the incident, he runs and appears to point the Taser in the direction of Rolfe, who shoots him. Two of the shots hit Brooks in the back and a third one hit a nearby vehicle.
Rolfe’s attorneys said he reacted after he thought he “heard a gunshot and saw a flash in front of him.”
“Fearing for his safety and the safety of the civilians around him, Officer Rolfe dropped his Taser and fired his service weapon at the only portion of Mr. Brooks that presented to him – Mr. Brooks’ back,” they said in a statement.
The charges against the officers are a good first step, but they do not guarantee a conviction, a family attorney said.
“He has good lawyers on his side to fight for him. This is not the finish line. This is the starting point. Yes, we appreciate and we commend the DA’s office for charging these officers appropriately, but that’s just Step One,” attorney Justin Miller said. “As you know, that doesn’t always result in convictions.”
Attorney denies officer is a state witness
Brosnan is cooperating and providing details on what he saw, but he’s not a state witness, as Howard said, according to his attorneys. Brosnan also faces two counts of violating his oath of office.
“To be clear there is no agreement that our client is going to testify at any hearing. He has been cooperative. He went in … and made a statement to the assistant district attorney and their investigator, he provided them with his cell phone,” defense attorney Amanda Clark Palmer told CNN on Wednesday. “If there’s any other law enforcement agency like the GBI, which I would anticipate wants to talk to him, we will be cooperative.”
She continued, “He’s not a state’s witness. He’s a witness. He will tell the truth about what he saw, what happened to him and what happened.”
Howard told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday he stands by his statement.
Brosnan’s defense team denied he stepped on Brooks, saying he briefly put his foot on Brooks’ arm to make sure he did not access a weapon.
“There was no malice or ill intent in what he did,” Palmer said.
Brosnan suffered bruises to his arms and legs in the scuffle, as well as a concussion when he hit his head on the pavement, his defense team said. He never drew his weapon, and he tried to stabilize Brooks after the shooting, removing the man’s shirt and administering first aid, the lawyers’ statement reads.
In addition to performing CPR, defense attorney Samuel said, Brosnan also put anticoagulant in Brooks’ wounds and applied compression bandages.
“Despite a crowd that was yelling, Devin did what he could to save Mr. Brooks,” the defense team’s statement said.
After Brosnan turned himself in Thursday, Samuel questioned the rush to charge his client.
“Why did they have to bring a charge within three days against my guy?” he asked reporters. “He’s not charged with having anything to do with the homicide, but (Howard) wants to charge him for not rendering aid fast enough? I’ve never even seen a case like this.”
Brosnan told MSNBC he initially thought Brooks was friendly and respectful.
“I felt like he was potentially someone that needed my help,” he said. “And I was really just there to see what I could do to make sure that he was safe.”
Rolfe’s attorney also disputes allegations
Rolfe also did not kick Brooks, the ex-officer’s attorney said, asking why Howard did not release the video.
“If there was a video of my client kicking Mr. Brooks, you would have seen it,” attorney Lance LoRusso told Fox News. “(Howard) shows a still, and one leg is planted and the other one’s bent. He could be leaning down to try to give him first aid. It could have been when he was trying to evaluate whether he needed handcuffs.”
The officer administered CPR on Brooks, monitored his pulse, urged him to continue breathing and coordinated other efforts on the scene, his lawyers say.
Rolfe also faces five counts of aggravated assault, four counts of violating his oath of office and one count of criminal damage to property. The maximum sentence for someone convicted of felony murder is death, but Howard told CNN on Thursday he would not seek capital punishment.
As to the assertion Rolfe did not kick Brooks, Justin Miller, the family attorney, said he trusts Howard’s version of events.
“At some point we’re going to see the video, and we’ll know exactly what happened. I think that the DA’s office wouldn’t have charged something that they knew they couldn’t prove and that they’d be embarrassed by if it was a lie. … No other reason to put that out there for them,” he said Thursday.
Howard told CNN his staff has not decided whether it will release the video, given that the investigation is ongoing.
A city on edge
Hours after Howard’s announcement, Atlanta police officers stopped responding to calls in three of the city’s six zones, sources said.
The department denied reports of officers walking off the job, saying there was a high number of call-outs on the incoming shift, but a union director contended police were “fed up” and he received reports of some calling out or walking off their shifts.
“We have enough resources to maintain operations & remain able to respond to incidents,” Atlanta police tweeted.
The city has shown its commitment to officers through a pay raise, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, and she expects them to keep their commitment to their communities.
Brosnan also faces two counts of violation of oath of office.
Despite the city’s denial, Vince Champion, the southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, presented a different account: He got calls throughout the night saying officers were calling out and walking off their shift.
“Some were just refusing to leave the precincts unless an officer needed help, so it was different things,” Champion said.
While he didn’t have hard numbers, he has heard officers will also call out Thursday, he said.
CNN’s Devon M. Sayers, Ryan Young, Dianne Gallagher, Jennifer Henderson, Hollie Silverman, Pamela Kirkland, Eric Levenson and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report