The GBI’s long-awaited investigation into the death of Rayshard Brooks, fatally shot in June by a since-fired Atlanta police officer, has wrapped up. But its findings won’t be made public anytime soon.
GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles confirmed Monday the investigative file has been turned over to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and the Atlanta Police Department. As long as the investigation is open, the file isn’t subject to open records laws.
It’s not just the public that’s left in the dark. Attorneys representing the two cops charged by Howard, along with the prosecutor who defeated him in his bid for a seventh term as DA, are not entitled to the information — not yet, at least.
While many people would like to know what the GBI uncovered, the agency refuses to offer any conclusions about guilt or innocence.
“It’s a collection of statements and facts, with a lot of tape recordings,” former DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But they don’t give an opinion.”
Sometimes, the evidence clearly favors one side or another, but often its contradictory, especially when witnesses are involved, James said. He said he found the GBI to be generally fair arbiters, though there were cases in which he believed officers received too much of the benefit of the doubt.
“We didn’t always see eye to eye," James said. “And at the end of the day it’s the district attorney’s decision, no one else’s.”
In Georgia, prosecutors almost always wait for the GBI investigation to conclude before deciding whether to move forward in cases involving on-duty officer shootings. Prosecutors conduct their own, independent investigations, James said. The process leading up to a final decision usually takes at least a year; Howard has waited as long as four years to move forward in other officer-involved shooting cases.
He wasted no time in the Brooks probe, charging officers Garrett Rolfe, since fired, and Devin Brosnan five days after the incident.
At his press conference announcing the charges, Howard said Brooks posed no threat to the officers and shouldn’t have been shot. In a lawsuit filed soon after, Rolfe, seeking reinstatement to the force, said Brooks violently resisted arrest. The shooting, the suit contends, was justified.
Video of the incident, which took place in the parking lot of the University Avenue Wendy’s, showed Rolfe attempting to place Brooks in handcuffs for suspected DUI. Brooks fought with both Rolfe and Brosnan and took Brosnan’s Taser, dash-cam video appears to show. After Brooks pointed the Taser at Rolfe and pulled the trigger, Rolfe pulled out his handgun and fired three shots. Two hit Brooks, and he died of gunshot wounds of the back, Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office has said.
“We encourage Paul Howard to release the full GBI report immediately so that the findings of this independent investigation will available to the public,” Rolfe’s attorney, Noah Pines, said in a statement.
While Howard’s decision was applauded by some, many critics accused him of a rush to judgement driven by his re-election campaign. He ended up losing handily in a runoff to Willis, his former chief deputy.
She’ll ultimately be the one who decides whether Rolfe and Brosnan should be prosecuted. Both are currently out on bond.
“In a smooth transition, she’d likely be given access (to the GBI file),” James said. “That’s what you’d like to see.”
But Willis' spokesman, Jeff DiSantis, said Howard has yet to reach out to his presumptive successor in the month-and-a-half since the runoff.
“This case and all others must be handled according to the facts and the law," Willis said in a statement. "That is how I will handle every matter that comes before me as District Attorney.”
Willis faces no Republican opposition and is poised to become Fulton’s new DA in January. She has previously criticized Howard’s handling of the case, speculating that a change of venue is likely to be sought.
Howard did not respond to a request for comment.
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