Judge recuses Fulton DA from Rayshard Brooks case

State attorney general tasked with finding new prosecutor
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr are at a stalemate over who should represent the state in two controversial police prosecutions. (Jenni Girtman & Steve Schaefer / For the AJC)

Credit: Jenni Girtman and Steve Schaefer

Credit: Jenni Girtman and Steve Schaefer

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr are at a stalemate over who should represent the state in two controversial police prosecutions. (Jenni Girtman & Steve Schaefer / For the AJC)

A judge has granted Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ request to recuse her office from prosecuting Atlanta Police Department Officer Garrett Rolfe.

Rolfe, recently reinstated by the Atlanta Civil Service Board, was charged with felony murder last June, less than a week after shooting Rayshard Brooks following a scuffle in a downtown Wendy’s parking lot.

Brooks, suspected of DUI, had struck the other officer on the scene, Devin Brosnan, hard enough to cause a concussion, then grabbed his Taser and aimed it at Rolfe as he fled from the scene. Rolfe then shot Brooks. Both officers are white. Brooks was Black.

In a statement, Rolfe attorneys Noah Pines and Bill Thomas said they hope the new prosecutor — to be appointed by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr — will “fairly and objectively review the events of June 12, 2020, that resulted in Officer Rolfe’s legal use of deadly force.”

“We continue to maintain that Officer Rolfe’s use of deadly force was legally justified and we look forward to his complete exoneration,” the statement continued.

Willis had twice sought disqualification from the case, citing the conduct of her predecessor, Paul Howard, in bringing charges against the two officers. Howard’s use of subpoenas is under investigation by the GBI, and Willis previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that past and current members of her office are likely to be called as witnesses.

The defense had filed a motion for Howard’s recusal last July, arguing the former DA’s statements to the public were “ethically inappropriate.”

Carr, in a virtually unprecedented move, denied Willis’ requests for recusal, telling the district attorney that ”the matters are personal” to her predecessor and “do not pertain” to Willis’ office.

On Friday, Fulton Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher sided with Willis.

“This Court finds, based upon the record before it, that it is all but inevitable that numerous present members of the District Attorney’s staff, and likely the District Attorney herself, will be called as witnesses for the Defendant both at any trial of this case and in pretrial matters in advance of any trial,” Brasher wrote. “The circumstances surrounding the calling of the above-referenced witnesses, and the matters about which they will be called to testify, demonstrate that there exists a conflict of interest on the part of the Office of the District Attorney for the Atlanta Judicial Circuit.”

Willis told the AJC last month that a substantial challenge awaits the new prosecutor of the Brooks case.

“I believe that case has layers of problems because of the way it was inappropriately handled,” Willis said. “In my opinion it’s unfair to everyone involved. And it has made things difficult for whoever ends up ultimately with that case.”

She struck a more optimistic tone in a statement Friday.

“I expect that this will allow the case to move forward in a manner consistent with achieving a just result that all parties will have confidence in,” Willis said.

Also on Friday, a spokesperson for Carr said the attorney general will respect the court’s decision.

Meanwhile, lawyers Chris Stewart and Justin Miller, who represent Brooks’ family, said they hope the new prosecutor will move forward in a “vigorous and expeditious manner.”

“The family of Rayshard Brooks has been through so much during this process,” the attorneys said in a statement. “The numerous stops and starts have been gut-wrenching and have made it even more difficult for this grieving family to find peace.”

Rayshard Brooks discussed the need for justice system reform during lengthy interview

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FILE -- In this booking file photo made available Thursday, June 18, 2020, by the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, is Garrett Rolfe. Rolfe, the Atlanta Police officer who was fired from his job after fatally shooting a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, was reinstated Wednesday, May 5, 2021 by the city’s Civil Service Board, which found that Rolfe’s firing violated his due process rights. (Fulton County Sheriff's Office via The New York Times) -- FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. --

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Fight over who will prosecute Rayshard Brooks case takes unusual turn

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