3 plead not guilty in Wendy’s arson during Rayshard Brooks protest

Three people accused of setting fire to the now-demolished Wendy’s during a protest over the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks waived their arraignment Friday morning and pleaded not guilty.

Natalie White, 31, John Wesley Wade, 35, and Chisom Kingston, 24, each face two counts of first-degree arson and one count of conspiracy to commit arson, court records show. The indictments were handed down in January, nearly 20 months after the fast-food restaurant was torched during a demonstration over the June 2020 police shooting of Brooks by Atlanta police.

Brooks’ killing sparked a wave of protests across the city amid 2020′s broader demonstrations over police shootings of Black people. Atlanta police Officer Garrett Rolfe shot and killed Brooks after the 27-year-old punched a second officer hard enough to cause a concussion, grabbed his Taser and aimed it at Rolfe as he ran from a DUI arrest in the Wendy’s parking lot.

ExploreA timeline of the Rayshard Brooks case

Both Rolfe and the second officer, Devin Brosnan, were charged by former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard five days later.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Rolfe, who faces felony murder and aggravated assault charges, was reinstated by the city’s Civil Service Board last spring after the group determined he was not afforded his right to due process. Brosnan, the first officer on the scene that evening, is charged with aggravated assault and other offenses.

White’s attorney, Drew Findling, said his client didn’t know Wade or Chisom, saying the men are “strangers to us.” He said Friday that he plans to fight the charges.

“We’ve been 100% confident of her innocence from the very beginning,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Wade is a local activist who led several protests during the summer of 2020. He was arrested again that August and charged with criminal attempt to incite a riot, according to jail records. Authorities said he helped organize the protest that preceded the Wendy’s going up in flames.

Credit: Shaddi Abusaid/shaddi.abusaid@ajc.com

Credit: Shaddi Abusaid/shaddi.abusaid@ajc.com

District Attorney Fani Willis has said while authorities support the right to peacefully demonstrate, her office will not tolerate violence.

ExploreAtlanta protest organizer among 2 more arrested in arson at Wendy’s

“It is unacceptable to burn down a building in your community, even in the name of a protest,” she told Channel 2 Action News after January’s indictments were handed down.

Willis said much of the evidence that led to those indictments was gathered from video shared on social media the night of the protest. She said investigators spent thousands of hours combing through videos of the scene surrounding the fire.

White was the first of the three defendants to be arrested on June 23, 2020, followed by Wade and Kingston a little more than a week later. All three were released on bond within hours or days of their arrests.