State attorney general to DA Fani Willis: Again, no Brooks case recusal

Ga. Attorney General denies Fulton district attorney’s request for special prosecutor in Rayshard Brooks case

Ga. Attorney General denies Fulton district attorney’s request for special prosecutor in Rayshard Brooks case

State Attorney General Chris Carr has once again rejected the Fulton County district attorney’s request to recuse her office from prosecuting the June 2020 shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.

In an exchange of letters late last week, DA Fani Willis asked Carr to reconsider what she called an “unorthodox decision.” But the AG’s office held firm, standing by its initial response.

The back-and-forth is happening at the same time Willis’ office is investigating whether former President Donald Trump broke Georgia law by urging state elections officials to find enough votes to overturn his defeat here.

With regard to the Brooks’ case, Willis wrote Carr on Jan. 25 that the conduct of her predecessor, Paul Howard, had been so inappropriate that the Fulton DA’s office should be disqualified. On Feb. 9, Carr turned her down, saying the “matters are personal to your predecessor” and “do not pertain to your office.”

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr speaks at the state Capitol on November 24, 2020. (STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Willis wants another prosecutor to take the case against former Atlanta police officers Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan. Rolfe is charged with felony murder for fatally shooting Brooks in the back at a Wendy’s parking lot. This happened after Brooks resisted arrest and broke free after assaulting Rolfe. Brooks also took Brosnan’s Taser and then unsuccessfully tried to fire it while fleeing. Rolfe is also charged with other felony offenses, while Brosnan is charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath of office.

Willis had also asked Carr to disqualify her office from the case involving six Atlanta Police Department officers who used their Tasers on two college students during civil unrest in May 2020.

On Feb. 11, Willis wrote Carr that she was “both disappointed and concerned” about his decision. “I maintain it is in the best interests of justice that a separate office handle these cases,” Willis wrote.

She noted that Georgia law says the attorney general “shall” appoint a new prosecutor upon a DA’s notice that he or she has a conflict. At an orientation seminar for newly elected DAs late last year, a member of Carr’s own office said a DA’s decision to recuse would be final and respected, Willis noted.

In a May 2020 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carr said pretty much the same thing when referring to his replacement of DAs in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick.

When asking Carr to reconsider her request in the Brooks case, Willis said, “I do not believe you have the lawful authority to reject my recusal.”

The next day, Chief Deputy AG Wright Banks Jr. responded. The initial decision “remains in place,” he said.

In a statement issued Monday, Willis continued to disagree.

“The attorney general’s position is contrary to what he has stated is the role of his office in the Arbery case, it is contrary to the position of legal ethics experts and it jeopardizes achieving justice for everyone involved in these cases,” Willis said. “That said, I took an oath to do my best to achieve justice in every case, and I will do so whatever the circumstances.”

Richard Hyde, former chief investigator for the AG’s office, had strong words regarding Carr’s decision.

“In the past, the attorney general has advocated for high ethical standards for public officials,” he said. “Here, it appears we now have one who wants less.”

Katie Byrd, a spokeswoman for Carr, said the AG’s office has good grounds to decline Willis’s request.

“Our office maintains that the reasons provided by the Fulton County District Attorney in the first and second requests fail to meet what is required to invoke the conflict statute,” she said. “In her letters, the Fulton County District Attorney makes a good case for why her predecessor has a conflict but not her own. The primary role of the Attorney General is to follow the law as written.”