A demoralized Atlanta Police Department continues to grapple with sickouts following the arrests of officers in connection to the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, but Interim Chief Rodney Bryant said Saturday the police force has the resources to keep the city safe.
Bryant also said he is committed to making reforms to the department’s internal investigations and training regimen, including emphasizing de-escalation and implicit bias training and peer intervention.
The June 12 shooting of Brooks outside a fast food restaurant has rocked the city, sparking outrage among demonstrators and amplifying protests against police brutality and racial injustice that have gripped Atlanta and other cities across the country since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, an arrest warrant was issued for a woman believed to be one of several people responsible for setting fire to the Wendy’s the day after Brooks’ death, as protests have continued.
While most were peaceful, late Friday, protesters and a motorist clashed in Midtown and a shooting occurred during a Juneteenth celebration at the Wendy's restaurant south of downtown where Brooks was shot. On Saturday evening, a man was wounded outside the restaurant.
Bryant said the weeks of protests have put a heavy burden on the department and officers have felt they are not being afforded due process in the wake of the Brooks shooting. Two officers have been charged in the Brooks shooting, and six others were recently charged following a violent arrest involving Tasers of two college students that was captured by a television news crew.
“It is factual that over the past few days we’ve seen a higher than average number of officers call in sick, which caused us to shift resources to ensure proper coverage,” Bryant said. He declined to say how many officers have called out, saying it fluctuates by day.”
“The explanation for calling out sick vary, and include officers questioning their training, officers being challenged and attacked and unease about officers seeing their colleagues criminally charged so quickly,” Bryant said. “Neither APD leadership nor the administration is dismissive of these notions. I want each of you to know that we are in this together and we support you.”
Bryant also said that since June 1, nine officers have resigned.
Bryant said he intends to beef up the department’s Office of Professional Standards so that investigations into officers do not drag out, leaving cops and the public in limbo.
The workload since May 29, when protests started in Atlanta, has been exhausting, he said. Police brass are working on ways to find days off for officers.
“This volume of activity can be taxing on any department,” he said. “We are the largest police department in the state and have the resources to ensure safety to our citizens. If you call 911, a police officer will respond.
“The Atlanta Police Department has not given up on the city that we love, and we ask that you not give up on us,” Bryant said.
The interim chief said the department also has not lost the support of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whom he said would soon speak directly to officers in the coming days.
On Saturday, Atlanta fire investigators said they have identified 29-year-old Natalie White as a suspect in the burning of the Wendy's on June 13. She is wanted for first-degree arson.
According to investigators, the fire was ignited by “multiple suspects” who used aerosol cans and lighters. Several fireworks were also set off inside the restaurant, and some protesters tossed debris into the building before setting it on fire, authorities said.
Anyone who knows White’s whereabouts or has information about the fire is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477 or the Arson Tip Line at 1-800-282-5804.
When Brooks was questioned by police before he was shot, he told officers he had been with a girlfriend whom he identified as “Natalie White.”
Asked if the woman sought for arson is the same person, an Atlanta fire spokesman said that information was “unknown at this time.”
Shootings at the Wendy’s
Protests of Brooks’ shooting death have continued throughout the city and at the burned Wendy’s.
Late Friday night, a 24-year-old woman was shot in the leg outside the Wendy’s, police said.
Cellphone video posted online captured the sound of gunfire about 10:45 p.m. About 20 gunshots can be heard before a woman screams and falls to the ground. Other protesters surrounded her and yelled for the shooting to stop. She is expected to survive her injuries, authorities said.
According to police, officers at the scene received conflicting accounts of what happened.
The woman told police she saw a bald man who appeared to be firing randomly before she was struck, Atlanta police spokesman Steve Avery said. Another witness, however, told officers that a man and woman, drove up to the scene and began shooting at the crowd.
“Investigators are reviewing the accounts of the shooting and working to determine the circumstances surrounding this incident,” Avery said.
Amisha Harding said the gunfire interrupted what had been a peaceful block party to celebrate Juneteenth.
“We had kids out there. We had barbecue,” Harding said. “There was music going. It was no drama.”
Before the shooting, Harding said she created what she called a healing wall where participants in the Juneteenth event wrote messages to Brooks.
On Saturday evening, police said a man was wounded in an apparent drive-by shooting. Witnesses told officers the man was shot by someone driving a gray Dodge Challenger. The car was last seen fleeing north on Pryor Road, Atlanta police spokesman Officer Anthony Grant said.
Motorist and protesters clash
A clash between protesters and a driver who was trying to get past them erupted in gunfire Friday evening at a Midtown intersection. No one was injured.
A 31-year-old man told officers a protester shot at him just before 8 p.m. while he was inside his vehicle at the corner Ponce de Leon Avenue and Boulevard, authorities said.
His car was struck at least once but the driver was not injured, Atlanta police spokesman Officer Steve Avery said Saturday.
Accounts of what led to the shooting differ, however.
In cellphone video posted online, the man appears to get out of his car and retrieve a rifle from his trunk as protesters held a moment of silence in the intersection. Police said he grabbed the gun because he “felt threatened” by the demonstrators blocking the road, some of whom were armed themselves.
In the cellphone footage, the man appears to drive into one protester who was standing in front of his Nissan. Several gunshots can be heard as he speeds away.
Police, however, said the man told them it was the demonstrators who fired first, prompting him to “accelerate past the protesters.”