GBI investigation sheds new light on Rayshard Brooks shooting

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

In a recently filed motion to ease bond restrictions, Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe’s attorney cites details from the GBI probe into last June’s shooting of Rayshard Brooks that contradict assertions by the former district attorney who charged the 27-year-old officer with murder.

The bulk of the GBI’s findings remain unavailable to the public, and this is the first public disclosure of any details of its investigation. The agency investigates virtually every police shooting in the state and, while it makes no determination of guilt or innocence, the GBI’s findings carry considerable weight with prosecutors.

ExploreFulton DA charges former APD cop with murder in Wendy’s shooting

Former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said last June the GBI wasn’t needed on this case, pointing to extensive video evidence and eyewitness testimony of the deadly encounter between Brooks, Rolfe and another Atlanta Police Department officer, Devin Brosnan, at a downtown Wendy’s. He announced he was charging Rolfe with murder after a five-day investigation — three months before the GBI completed its probe.

Brooks was fleeing officers when he was fatally shot. Howard concluded that he posed no threat to officers in announcing murder charges.

Howard and the GBI, according to limited portions of the GBI report cited by Rolfe’s attorneys, reached starkly different conclusions on several key points.

The former DA said Brooks, who was suspected of drunken driving, was only “slightly impaired” while interacting with the officers. A toxicology report conducted by the GBI suggests he could have been under the influence of illicit drugs and alcohol. Howard also said Rolfe failed to render medical aid to Brooks after the shooting. The GBI says that he did.

ExploreREAD: The defense motion requesting bond modification

And there was another revelation. According to the GBI, drugs were found in the car Brooks was driving. Brooks was already on probation, and an arrest for drug possession could have resulted in a return to prison.

“Paul Howard disregarded the evidence and the experts and arrested Officer Rolfe in an attempt to help his bid for re-election,” Rolfe’s attorney, Noah Pines, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday in a written statement. “Paul Howard and his staff misinformed the public and the Court as to the facts of this case.

Howard did not respond to a request for comment. His successor, Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis, has sought to recuse her office from the case, citing a conflict of interest due to her predecessor’s handling of the investigation.

ExploreStandoff persists between Fulton DA, state AG over police prosecutions

The AJC has not seen the entire GBI file, only excerpts cherry-picked by the defense. The GBI does not make its reports public, sharing them only with the agency that employs an officer under investigation and the prosecutor who will decide whether criminal charges are warranted, said agency spokeswoman Nelly Miles. As long as an investigation is open, the GBI file remains closed, she said.

Defense teams don’t usually get access until the discovery phase, after a prosecutor has entered the file into evidence, said Mike Puglise, a Gwinnett County attorney who has represented several cops facing excessive force allegations. When that information is favorable to their side, Puglise said defense lawyers will find a way to make it public.

“There’s nothing in the law that says you can’t,” he said. “Unless you have a gentleman’s agreement with the prosecutor, which sometimes happens.”

For Pines, the GBI report could be a difference-maker. He says it proves that Howard’s statements to the public, and his assistant district attorneys’ arguments during last June’s bond hearing, “were not accurate, omitted exculpatory facts, and could have impacted this Court’s decision to impose restrictive conditions of bond.”

ExploreRayshard Brooks' final 41 minutes

Brooks’ death came against a backdrop of intense national protests over police, deadly force and how it’s wielded against Black suspects. Brooks’ encounter with Atlanta police came less than three weeks after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, which touched off the summer of protests. After being told by the two white officers that he was under arrest for suspected drunken driving, Brooks, who was Black, fought as Rolfe attempted to handcuff him.

Brooks was on probation until 2026. The father of three daughters and one stepson had already served one year behind bars for a 2014 incident in which he yanked his wife against her will into another room. Brooks pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and, because his stepson witnessed the fight, child cruelty.

In the ensuing struggle with the APD officers, Brooks struck Brosnan and grabbed his Taser. Doctors at Grady Memorial Hospital would later determine that Brosnan, charged with aggravated assault and lesser offenses, suffered a concussion.

As he ran from the scene, Brooks was seen aiming the Taser at Rolfe, firing once and missing. But the defense contends Brooks had already fired a Taser cartridge at Brosnan and proceeded to pull the stun gun’s trigger three more times, “indicating his intent to harm Officer Rolfe.”

At that point, Rolfe fired three bullets at Brooks, hitting him twice in the back.

“Nineteen feet running away,” attorneys Chris Stewart and Justin Miller, who represent Brooks’ family, said Sunday. “We’ve seen armed men with machine guns be taken alive after taking multiple lives.”

They argue that what was found inside Brooks’ car — methamphetamines and eutylone, a designer drug stimulant, according to the defense motion — doesn’t change what happened outside it. Brooks was shot in the back as he was fleeing and was no longer a threat to officers.

GBI crime lab toxicology reports indicate that Brooks’ blood contained cocaine, a prescription sedative, and eutylone.

Cocaine and eutylone produce similar immediate effects such as euphoria, alertness and hypersensitivity to light and sound, according to the National Institutes of Health. But when first confronted by Brosnan on the night of his death, Brooks was asleep in the Wendy’s drive-thru line.

The GBI also found no witnesses to confirm Howard’s claim that Rolfe exclaimed “I got him” after shooting Brooks. Investigators also concluded, following a review of available videos, that Rolfe did not kick Brooks, as the former DA alleged, but rather stepped over him, according to the defense filing.

“Now that the independent investigation by the GBI has been completed and Paul Howard is no longer around to misinform the public and this Court about the facts of this case, it is time for this Court to re-examine the conditions of bond imposed on Officer Rolfe,” the motion states.

If the judge agrees, Rolfe would no longer be prohibited from possessing a firearm or interacting with other police officers.

ExploreCivil service board reinstates fired cop who shot Rayshard Brooks

Rolfe was reinstated last week by the city’s Civil Service Board, which found he was not afforded due process when he was fired one day after shooting Brooks.

He also seeks removal of his ankle monitor, permission to leave the state and an end to his 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

APD placed Rolfe on administrative leave upon the board’s decision. A department spokesman said an assessment is underway to determine whether an additional investigation is needed.

The criminal case against him remains in limbo. Fulton DA spokesman Jeff DiSantis said the case file, including the GBI report, has been sealed pending a judge’s decision on who has jurisdiction.

STORY SO FAR:

In June, Atlanta Police Department Officer Garrett Rolfe fatally shot Rayshard Brooks during a DUI arrest. Rolfe was swiftly terminated from employment and charged with felony murder and other charges. In April, Rolfe appeared before the city’s Civil Service Board seeking reinstatement. The board announced Wednesday it ruled in Rolfe’s favor, saying the city had denied the officer due process. Rolfe has been placed on administrative leave by the city; the reinstatement order does not return him to active duty. Rolfe’s attorneys have filed a motion to modify his bond, citing contradictions between the GBI investigation into the shooting and the findings of former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is committed to providing developments on this case as they happen and to representing all sides in this nationally watched case.