Rayshard Brooks decision: Who is Danny Porter?

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Retired DA from Gwinnett County has history prosecuting bad cops

It was Danny Porter who delivered the news Tuesday afternoon: charges against the Atlanta police officers involved in the 2020 death of Rayshard Brooks would no longer be pursued.

“It’s my conclusion,” the gravel-voiced former prosecutor said, “that the use of deadly force was objectively reasonable and that they did not act with criminal intent.”

Porter helped conduct video analysis in the special prosecutor’s investigation into Brooks’ death and, during the press conference announcing the decision to drop charges against Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan, he walked the media and the public through what he called “a different incident” than what had previously been presented.

He highlighted instants that he said were key to making a determination, including Brooks taking Rolfe’s Taser and firing it at the officers.

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But who is Porter? And how did he get involved in the case?

Porter, a Republican, was Gwinnett County’s district attorney for 28 years. He retired after losing his 2020 re-election bid to Democrat Patsy Austin-Gatson — a development that, at the time, he attributed to the blue wave sweeping through Gwinnett, saying it was not a reflection of his reputation as a prosecutor.

Pete Skandalakis, the veteran attorney and executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia, said he reached out to Porter shortly after the Brooks shooting landed in his lap last year, asking if he’d contract to work as co-counsel on the case.

Porter was a highly regarded trial attorney and a presence in a courtroom. In addition to obtaining the death penalty in a number of high-profile cases, he also sought criminal charges against police officers in a number of cases.

That, Porter said Tuesday, was part of the reason he was chosen to help lead the special investigation into the Brooks case.

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Porter referenced a case in which he sought the death penalty against police officer Mike Chapel for the killing of a Sugar Hill woman. In 1995, he obtained the murder conviction but not a death sentence. Porter also said he had prosecuted police officers who “assaulted women on the side of the road.”

The most recent incidence of Porter’s office prosecuting police misconduct stemmed from a 2017 traffic stop. Several days after that stop near Lawrenceville, cellphone video emerged showing officers Michael Bongiovanni and Robert McDonald kicking and punching the young Black motorist they’d pulled over.

Both officers were quickly dismissed from the Gwinnett County Police Department and arrested. Porter later secured an indictment with more serious felony charges.

In 2019, Bongiovanni pleaded no contest to aggravated assault and battery charges and was sentenced to six months of work release and 10 years of probation.

McDonald opted to go to trial and, in Feb. 2020, was found guilty of aggravated assault, battery and violation of oath of office. He was sentenced to 10 years of probation.

Porter at the time drew some criticism for negotiating a plea deal with Bongiovanni. And though drastically different circumstances were at play, the decision echoed others the longtime prosecutor had made in other high-profile cases.

While prosecuting a portion of the corruption scandal that rocked Gwinnett’s county government in the early 2010s, Porter allowed then-commission chairman Charles Bannister to resign rather than face perjury charges.

Former county commissioner Kevin Kenerly also reached a deal to plea no contest to a single count of bribery, related to his involvement in shady land deals. He received no prison time.

Porter said Tuesday that, when asked about joining the Brooks investigation, he asked Skandalakis if there was “anybody else that would take this.”

He then decided he was retired and “had nothing to lose,” so he agreed to join — “and was immediately sorry for it.”

Other prosecutors involved in the case

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Pete Skandalakis

For more than 25 years, Skandalakis served as the district attorney for the Coweta Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Carroll, Coweta, Heard, Meriwether and Troup counties. He prosecuted a number of high-profile criminal cases and was named Georgia’s District Attorney of the Year in 2007.

In 2018, Skandalakis became the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia. The council assists local DAs with criminal cases and offers training to prosecutors and, when the General Assembly is in session, weighs in on legislation that affects the criminal justice system.

The investigation into Rolfe and Brosnan landed with Skandalakis last year, after a judge recused Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her office from the case.

Fani Willis

During her 18-year career as an assistant district attorney in Fulton County, Willis prosecuted a number of high-profile cases, including the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.

She became district attorney after winning an election over her former boss, Paul Howard, in 2020. Her tenure in the office has been marked largely by an ongoing special grand jury investigation into former President Donald Trump.

Willis asked to be disqualified from investigation into the Brooks shooting due to Howard’s conduct while bringing charges against Rolfe and Brosnan.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Paul Howard

Howard served six terms as Fulton County’s district attorney until he was soundly defeated by Willis in 2020.

The first Black person to win election as a DA in Georgia, Howard had not faced a serious challenger since 2000 — and had become mired in controversy at the end of his term.

He faced sex harassment and discrimination lawsuits and was being investigated for using a nonprofit to funnel almost $200,000 of city of Atlanta funds into his personal bank account.

Howard charged Rolfe with felony murder just days after Brooks’ death, without a grand jury and before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had completed its investigation.