Ex-APD officer who shot Rayshard Brooks seeks reinstatement

Atlanta assistant police chief: Officers ‘acted accordingly’
Garrett Rolfe (left), Rayshard Brooks

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Garrett Rolfe (left), Rayshard Brooks

An attorney for former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe told the city’s civil service board Thursday that his client’s due process rights were “grossly violated” when he was fired for fatally shooting Rayshard Brooks outside a downtown Wendy’s.

Rolfe was dismissed “without a proper investigation” by the city on June 13, 2020, one day after Brooks’ death, said his lawyer, Lance LoRusso, who noted that former Atlanta police chief Erika Shields did not sign Rolfe’s dismissal form. She stepped aside as chief, eventually resigning. Assistant Chief Todd Coyt signed the dismissal form in Shields’ stead.

Called to testify Thursday by the city’s attorney, Coyt said he believed Rolfe and Officer Devin Brosnan — the first cop to confront Brooks that evening — “acted accordingly and … were trying to show compassion and did everything they could to calm the situation down.”

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms apparently disagreed. Back in June, she said Rolfe should be fired, telling reporters the circumstances of Brooks’ death required immediate action. “It is clear that we do not have another day, another minute, another hour to waste,” she said at the time.

And the mayor’s needs, LoRusso argued Thursday, prevented his client from receiving adequate time to defend himself.

Atlanta Police Department Sgt. William Dean, an internal affairs investigator, acknowledged under questioning by LoRusso that last year’s hearing on Rolfe’s job was scheduled to accommodate a 5 p.m. press conference by the mayor announcing Rolfe’s termination.

Rolfe, whose testimony Thursday marked his first public comments since Brooks’ death, said he didn’t find out about his “employee response hearing” until 3:45 p.m. He was more than an hour outside the city at the time and also feared for his safety, as video of Brooks’ shooting had been widely circulated by then.

Rolfe also testified he had not authorized police union official Ken Allen to represent him at the hearing.

The hastily convened meeting was necessary, said the city’s attorney, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy. Dismissing Rolfe so quickly was also a reasonable decision, she said, noting city policy allows for it when an officer’s presence “impairs the effectiveness of others.”

“Keeping (Rolfe) active would’ve been extremely disruptive,” Lawrence-Hardy said.

She noted that the night after Brooks’ death, the Wendy’s where he was shot was burned to the ground.

Later that week, Fulton County’s district attorney at the time, Paul Howard, charged Rolfe with felony murder for Brooks’ death. That case remains in limbo, as the new district attorney, Fani Willis, has sought to recuse her office, citing her predecessor’s mishandling of the investigation.

Those charges won’t necessarily derail Rolfe’s chances before the civil service board. In February, the board reinstated officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter, who were fired last June after video surfaced showing them deploying Tasers on two college students during last summer’s protests in downtown Atlanta. The veteran officers face a variety of criminal charges, including aggravated assault and simple battery.

The two cases are strikingly similar, LoRusso said.

“Like with Gardner and Streeter, we saw no opportunity for Garrett Rolfe to provide an employee response session, and he did want to provide one,” LoRusso said.

Rolfe maintains considerable support among his colleagues, hundreds of whom walked off the job in silent protest after he was charged by the Fulton DA.

Dean, asked by LoRusso to assess Rolfe’s handling of the incident involving Brooks, said, “I don’t know what else I would’ve done.”

“Everything was perfect,” he said. “It was definitely a physical assault on the officers, and they attempted to use the Taser, which was less lethal.”

Dean also testified he could not recall another example where an officer was fired for an alleged use of force violation without an investigation.

In her closing argument, Lawrence-Hardy told the three-person board that Rolfe, through his training, knew that Brooks was not a threat to public safety. She acknowledged that Brooks fought with the officers and, before fleeing, grabbed Brosnan’s Taser and errantly fired it at Brosnan.

That left Brooks with no more Taser cartridges at the time he was shot, Lawrence-Hardy said.

Brooks acted in desperation because “he knew being in jail would devastate his family, something he prized,” she said.

“The city of Atlanta has an opportunity to be on the right side of history, where police officers are held accountable for their actions,” Lawrence-Hardy said. “Mr. Brooks did not have to die that evening. That force was unnecessary.”

LoRusso argued Rolfe was scapegoated from the start. Rolfe testified that he was the valedictorian of his police academy class and was working through the Atlanta Police Foundation to buy a house in Zone 3, home to some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

“I believe it is important for officers to be members of the community they’re policing,” Rolfe said.