Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, has been reinstated by the city’s Civil Service Board.
MORE: Read the Civil Service Board’s ruling
“Due to the City’s failure to comply with several provisions of the Code and the information received during witnesses’ testimony, the Board concludes the Appellant was not afforded his right to due process,” the board concluded. “Therefore, the Board grants the Appeal of Garrett Rolfe and revokes his dismissal as an employee of the APD.”
The ruling doesn’t mean Rolfe will be back on the streets. In fact, he won’t actually be allowed to return to work, as his bond prevents him from possessing a firearm or being around other officers, said attorney Lance LoRusso, who represented the 28-year-old officer in front of the Civil Service Board. Rolfe will receive back pay for his time away from the department and will be compensated at the same rate as he was before his dismissal.
In a statement, the Atlanta Police Department confirmed Rolfe will be placed on administrative leave.
“The Civil Service Board (CSB) has reversed the termination of officer Garrett Rolfe only on the basis that they were not done in accordance with the Atlanta City Code,” read the statement. “It is important to note that the CSB did not make a determination as to whether officer Rolfe violated Atlanta Police Department policies. In light of the CSB’s rulings, APD will conduct an assessment to determine if additional investigative actions are needed.”
Rolfe was fired last June one day after he shot Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot. A scuffle followed after Brooks struck the other officer on the scene, Devin Brosnan, hard enough to cause a concussion, grabbed his Taser and aimed it at Rolfe, who then fired as he ran from the scene.
Brooks’ death led to widespread unrest in the city; the Wendy’s was torched and later razed. Activists opposed to Rolfe’s reinstatement have planned a protest for 5 p.m. outside Atlanta City Hall.
LoRusso said Rolfe is concerned his return to the force will lead to more division.
“He loves this city,” LoRusso said.
Rolfe, said his attorney, has received several death threats and has essentially been in hiding since last summer.
Though he got his job back, he wonders if he’ll ever truly get to be a cop again, LoRusso said.
“Obviously it would be dangerous for him to be on the streets,” he said. “He can’t even work in a traditional job, in a store or something like that, out of concern for his safety.”
In a statement, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms defended her decision to immediately fire Rolfe.
“Given the volatile state of our city and nation last summer, the decision to terminate this officer, after he fatally shot Mr. Brooks in the back, was the right thing to do,” she said. “Had immediate action not been taken, I firmly believe that the public safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse.”
Gov. Brian Kemp expressed support for the Civil Service Board’s ruling, saying, “Police, and everybody, deserve due process.”
Rolfe was charged with felony murder within a week of Brooks’ death by former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. Brosnan, who wasn’t fired, faces lesser charges including aggravated assault.
That case remains in limbo, however, as Howard’s successor, Fani Willis, has sought to recuse her office. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr denied Willis’ recusal, and a judge has yet to decide what happens next.
At Rolfe’s hearing two weeks ago, LoRusso argued his client was dismissed “without a proper investigation” by the city. It was revealed that then-Atlanta police chief Erika Shields did not sign Rolfe’s dismissal form. She stepped down as chief that same day, eventually resigning. Assistant Chief Todd Coyt signed the dismissal form in Shields’ place.
Coyt told the board he believed Rolfe and Brosnan “acted accordingly and … were trying to show compassion and did everything they could to calm the situation down.”
But Bottoms was unequivocal, 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.
That left Rolfe with no time to offer a defense, LoRusso argued. APD Sgt. William Dean, an internal affairs investigator, testified that Rolfe’s hearing was scheduled to accommodate a 5 p.m. press conference by the mayor announcing Rolfe’s termination.
Rolfe testified 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 said he feared for his safety, as video of Brooks’ shooting had been widely circulated.
The city’s hasty response was necessary, said its attorney, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy. City policy allows for dismissal when an officer’s presence “impairs the effectiveness of others,” she said.
“Keeping (Rolfe) active would’ve been extremely disruptive,” Lawrence-Hardy said.
In February, the Civil Service 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.
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