Atlanta, police officers face civil lawsuit over Rayshard Brooks death

A special prosecutor has closed the book on efforts to file criminal charges against the Atlanta police officers involved in Rayshard Brooks’ death. However, the city still faces three separate lawsuits surrounding the 2020 incident.

Officers Garrett Rolfe fatally shot Brooks, 27, on June 12, 2020, following a struggle that erupted as they tried to arrest him in a Wendy’s parking lot for driving under the influence of alcohol. The shooting sparked protests at the restaurant, which was destroyed by fire the following day.

Rolfe was fired a day after the shooting and then-police chief Erika Shields resigned from the department as well. Five days after the shooting, former Fulton County DA Paul Howard announced criminal charges against both officers. Rolfe was charged with 11 counts, including felony murder, and Officer Devin Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath of office.

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

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

But on Tuesday, two years after Brooks’ death, Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said the use of deadly force was justified, in part because Brooks tried to use a deadly weapon against them. During the struggle, Brooks stole one of the officers’ tasers and fired it at both of them.

Hours later, the Brooks family attorneys said on Tuesday that the officers will be put on a civil trial to answer for their actions leading up to the shooting. Attorneys Chris Stewart and Justin Miller said the Taser in Brooks’ possession was “a useless piece of plastic” compared to the training and firearms possessed by the officers.

“Should he have been fighting with the police? Absolutely not,” Miller said. “But you have a guy who you’re saying is drunk, he’s on drugs, and he’s running away from you.”

“You can’t catch a drunk guy on drugs running down Metropolitan Avenue? You have to shoot him in the back, but people who kill 10, 20 people — they can be taken down without incident. We all know this is ridiculous.”

Brooks widow Tomika Miller filed a lawsuit in September 2021 against the city, Rolfe and Brosnan for their role in her husband’s death. The 28-page complaint alleges that Brooks didn’t pose an immediate threat of serious physical harm or death to the officers because Brooks fired the Taser “aimlessly into the air” while running away from the police.

Miller alleged that Rolfe’s use of deadly force was unjustified and a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The suit asks for compensatory and punitive damages.

The financial amount would be set by the jury, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit lodges several allegations against the city and the officers, including the claim that the city issued a Taser to Brosnan despite his failure to complete mandatory Taser certification and training.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that after Brooks was shot, Brosnan placed his foot on Brooks while Rolfe kicked Brooks. The officers failed to seek medical assistance for Brooks and watched him bled to death, the lawsuit alleges.

“Defendant Rolfe’s conduct showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness, oppression, or an entire want of care which would cause the presumption of conscious indifference to consequence Defendant Rolfe acted with intent to injure Mr. Brooks,” the lawsuit says.

In June, Rolfe and Brosnan also filed two separate federal lawsuits against the city, Fulton County, former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former DA Paul Howard. Former Fulton County Assistant DA Clint Rucker and Donald Hannah, a former criminal investigator for the DA’s office, are also named in the officers’ suits. Shields is a defendant only in Rolfe’s lawsuit.