Ex-cop charged in Rayshard Brooks case involved in earlier shooting

Garrett Rolfe
Garrett Rolfe

Credit: Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office

Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, charged with felony murder in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks last week outside a downtown Wendy’s, five years ago was involved in another shooting on the job that left a man with a punctured lung, court documents show.

The 2015 shooting was not mentioned in the original incident report or in documents made available to the court-appointed attorney for the man who had been shot, Jackie Harris. The case was investigated by Atlanta police and turned over to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. He cleared the officers involved, including Rolfe, in February — five years after the shooting.

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In the Brooks case, Howard announced he was charging Rolfe with 11 criminal counts on Wednesday, following an investigation started just five days before.

Retired Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs presided over Harris’ 2016 trial.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said Friday. “It was the first time I’d ever come across a case where the incident report doesn’t even mention the fact that shots were fired.”

Harris, 40 at the time, had tried to flee from police after he was spotted driving a stolen truck, records show. He eventually crashed into a gas meter and twice ran into a parked police car.

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“At that time, there were a number of officers in the street,” Atlanta Police Capt. Michael O’Connor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. “He could have struck several of those officers. They then fired their weapons to stop what they viewed as the threat of the truck that was coming at them.”

Harris was unarmed but O’Connor said he had a weapon — “a 3,000 pound pickup truck.”

Downs said she suspected a possible cover-up. She immediately turned the officers’ names, along with information about the case and a letter from James describing the shooting, over to the GBI. But Atlanta police did not use the GBI at that time to conduct investigations into officer shootings. According to GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles, the agency turned Downs’ report over to APD.

In a letter to the court, Harris, who is black, said he was shot at numerous times by the officers, and was hit once in the back. Harris’ attorney, Serena Nunn, said five shots were fired in all — three from Rolfe’s service weapon.

“I had no weapon and didn’t try in any way to cause harm to the officer,” Harris wrote.

He spent nine days in Grady Memorial Hospital. He couldn’t be located for comment.

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Fulton Assistant District Attorney Han Chung said he had “encountered some plausible reasons why this may have happened,” according to court transcripts. Asked to elaborate by Downs, Chung said the information came from other ADAs.

The supervising ADA on the case was Fani Willis, who is now locked in a tight primary runoff against Howard.

She told the AJC Friday she didn’t remember the case.

“Those officers don’t stand out to me,” she said.

Despite charges including obstruction of an officer, attempting to flee arrest theft by taking and criminal damage to property, Harris received a favorable plea deal: two years on probation, with credit for the nine months served in jail waiting for trial.

Downs said she believes the state went easy on Harris because they feared the police shooting would dramatically weaken their case.

At one point during the plea hearing, the transcript shows, Downs asked Chung: “Are y’all trying to protect the police officers?”

“We are not trying to protect the police officers,” Chung responded.

Harris’ legal team argued he didn’t drive into the other cars until after he had been shot and called into question O’Connor’s claim in the AJC that the officers shot in self-defense.

Downs said she the case has stayed with her to this day.

“It makes you wonder, how many times has this happened before?” she said.

One year after Harris’ shooting, Rolfe received a written reprimand for violating the department’s use of firearm policy during a separate incident. Details were not made available by APD.

Rolfe, 27, is being held without bond. He waived his first court appearance on Friday and is due in court Tuesday for a bond hearing.

Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article