Attorney for Garrett Rolfe seeks Fulton DA’s recusal

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks during a news conference on June 17, 2020, at Fulton County Superior Courthouse, where he announced the charges against Garrett Rolfe, the now-fired police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks twice as Brooks ran during an attempted arrest in an Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard speaks during a news conference on June 17, 2020, at Fulton County Superior Courthouse, where he announced the charges against Garrett Rolfe, the now-fired police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks twice as Brooks ran during an attempted arrest in an Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

The attorney for the fired Atlanta police officer charged in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks filed a motion late Monday seeking Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard’s recusal from the case.

Noah Pines, who represents Garrett Rolfe, cited three reasons behind his motion.

Howard’s statements to the public, Pines said, have been “ethically inappropriate.” Moreover, the six-term incumbent DA, facing a hotly contested re-election in two weeks, is a necessary witness in the case.

Pines said Howard will be called by the defense to answer for contradictory statements made regarding the dangers posed by a Taser. In the incident on June 12, Brooks grabbed the Taser belonging to the other officer on the scene, Devin Brosnan, after resisting attempts by Rolfe to place him in handcuffs. Even when he pointed the Taser at the officers, Howard said Brooks presented “no threat” to their safety.

“However, just ten days earlier, Paul Howard told the public in a press conference that a Taser is a deadly weapon,” the defense motion states.

Howard made that assertion after charging six Atlanta Police Department officers for their roles in the violent arrests of two unarmed college students.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr recently requested the GBI widen its investigation into the veteran prosecutor to determine whether grand jury subpoenas for information about Rolfe were legally issued. Rolfe was charged with 11 criminal counts, including felony murder, less than one week after he fired two bullets into Brooks’ back on June 12 in a Wendy’s parking lot.

Howard was already the subject of a GBI probe for his use of a nonprofit to funnel almost $200,000 of city funds into his personal bank account.

He declined comment on Pines’ filing.

“When the motion is assigned to a Superior Court Judge with appropriate jurisdiction, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office will respond at that time,” read a statement attributed to Howard.

In previous statements, Howard has predicted he will be fully exonerated. The city approved the money to supplement his DA salary, Howard insists.

Pines listed several examples of what he claims were misstatements of fact made by Howard in an effort to sway public opinion.

“Paul Howard has systematically sought to deprive Garrett Rolfe of a fair trial and impartial jury since the day he announced his decision to arrest Garrett Rolfe,” the defense motion states.

Howard falsely attributed to Rolfe a comment made by a witness to the shooting, said Pines. The former APD cop never said, “I got him,” as Howard claimed at his news conference announcing the charges against Rolfe and Brosnan, Pines said.

“Paul Howard has simply attributed a statement from a bystander to Mr. Rolfe to heighten public condemnation of Mr. Rolfe,” the motion states.

Booking photos of Garrett Rolfe (left) and Devin Brosnan. FULTON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE VIA AP
Caption
Booking photos of Garrett Rolfe (left) and Devin Brosnan. FULTON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE VIA AP

Pines also cited Howard’s explosive claim, made during the same briefing, that Brosnan was a cooperating witness. Brosnan’s attorneys say that’s not true.

Howard has used the Rolfe case to bolster his re-election efforts, Pines alleges. First elected in 1996, Howard finished second to his former chief deputy prosecutor Fani Willis in the Democratic primary last month. Because neither candidate reached 50 percent, a runoff will be held on Aug. 11.

In a July 13 Facebook post, Howard wrote that Willis’ campaign was being “heavily funded by police unions” and “the lawyer representing Garrett Rolfe.”

“The truth is that defense counsel gave money to Fani Willis, and Christian Wise Smith, long before Mr. Rolfe was arrested, and that the June 30, 2020, donation to Ms. Willis has nothing to do with the case against Garrett Rolfe,” Pines responded. (Wise Smith finished third in the race for Fulton district attorney and has since endorsed Howard.)

Pines noted that Howard received a donation from attorney Don Samuel, chief counsel for Brosnan.

“Recusal is the only thing that can protect Garrett Rolfe from any further deprivation of his constitutional rights to a fair trial and an impartial jury,” Pines concludes.