Former Atlanta police chief Erika Shields said her decision to step aside last June, while not planned, was a long time coming.
“It was becoming an untenable situation,” Shields told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution following her introduction Wednesday as Louisville’s new top cop. “There were multiple things that made it become too difficult to do my job.”
Shields, who joined APD in 1995 and served as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant and major prior to her appointment to chief in 2016, resigned last June, one day after Rayshard Brooks was killed following an aggressive confrontation with Atlanta police officers Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan. Brooks, suspected of DUI, was shot twice from behind by Rolfe after resisting arrest and trying to flee with Brosnan’s Taser, which he had aimed at the officers.
The timing led many to believe Shields, 53, resigned because she disagreed with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ decision to fire Rolfe without an investigation.
“I’m going to steer clear of that one,“ she said, though she added that it’s unfair to judge an officer on just “a snippet” of an incident.
She said she doesn’t regret her decision to step down, though it “wasn’t easy.”
“I invested 25 years — my heart, my soul — everything revolved around that department,” Shields said. “But it was the right thing to do.”
She said she was proud of reforms instituted during her tenure that were “really progressive.”
“I think we were drilling down in the area of police reform,” Shields said. “We were on the right track.”
After stepping down as chief, Shields remained on the APD payroll and served as deputy chief information officer, where she managed public safety initiatives for Atlanta Information Management.
She said she purposely avoided issues pertaining to APD, which has endured a difficult transition period. Homicides more than doubled from the previous year in Atlanta, while hundreds of experienced officers left the force. Morale remains low, several officers have told the AJC.
“I have confidence the department will regain its footing,” she said. “The culture there is strong.”
In Louisville, she takes over a department still reeling from the fatal shooting last March of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American ER technician killed after three white officers entered her apartment on a no-knock warrant.
Brooks’ death led many Louisville residents to condemn Shields’ appointment.
“They could’ve chosen anyone, and this is a decision you make?” Adrian Baker, a protester and student body president of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, told the Louisville Courier Journal. “Someone that already has that blood on their hands, and has left and has resigned because of that blood on their hands, and they come here, where there’s so much bloodshed, there’s so much anxiety, there’s so much pain, and they come here, where we need healing?”
Shields said she anticipated some blowback but believes she is well-suited for the job.
“It was the only chief’s job I pursued, largely because of the Breonna Taylor case and what I felt I could bring to the table,” she said. “I wanted a challenge.”
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