Judge wants answers from Fulton DA in Rayshard Brooks case

This screen grab taken from body camera video provided by the Atlanta Police Department on June 12, 2020, shows Rayshard Brooks, right, speaking with Officer Garrett Rolfe in the parking lot of a Wendy's restaurant, prior to being fatally shot by Rolfe. (Atlanta Police Department/Zuma Press/TNS)
Caption
This screen grab taken from body camera video provided by the Atlanta Police Department on June 12, 2020, shows Rayshard Brooks, right, speaking with Officer Garrett Rolfe in the parking lot of a Wendy's restaurant, prior to being fatally shot by Rolfe. (Atlanta Police Department/Zuma Press/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Fulton County’s chief judge has ordered District Attorney Fani Willis to produce evidence that shows why she believes her office should not prosecute the case against two Atlanta police officers charged in the June 2020 shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.

In an order signed Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher gave Willis until May 3 to comply with his directive. He said he will review the information in private, and perhaps allow defense attorneys to see some of it, before he decides whether the DA’s Office should be disqualified.

Brasher issued the order in the case against former Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe, who was fired after the incident. He is charged with felony murder and other offenses in the shooting, in the parking lot of a since torched and razed Wendy’s near downtown. Officer Devin Brosnan, who first encountered Brooks, stands charged with aggravated assault and other offenses.

After taking office in January, Willis told Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr her office had a conflict of interest in the case and should be disqualified. Willis said her recusal was necessary because of alleged misconduct in the case by her predecessor, Paul Howard.

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)
Caption
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

Carr refused to appoint a special prosecutor, saying any conflicts of interest in the case involved only Howard, not Willis.

In the midst of this standoff, lawyers for Rolfe filed a motion to dismiss the case because there was no one to prosecute it. Last year, Rolfe’s attorneys filed a motion to disqualify the Fulton DA’s office, alleging Howard had made ethically inappropriate comments about the Brooks case.

In his order, Brasher said he “is sensitive to the plight of the district attorney and her office.” The judge also said he has no intention of placing Willis or any member of her staff in an ethically untenable situation.

“Nonetheless, the court has work to do and that work is to decide whether the district attorney’s office ... must be disqualified from representing the state of Georgia herein,” Brasher said. The only way to do that, he added, is to rely on information provided by Willis and her staff.

On Wednesday, Noah Pines, one of Rolfe’s lawyers, said that while he believes Willis’ decision to disqualify her office should be the final word on the matter, he looks forward to Brasher’s review.

“More than that, we hope that the district attorney will release the GBI report on this shooting,” Pines said. “Judge Brasher, the public and Garrett Rolfe all have the right to know what this independent investigation found. And learning what Paul Howard knew, and when he knew it, as he made repeated misstatements to the public, will shed light on the ethical quagmire at the heart of this case.”

Story so far

Jan. 25 – Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis sends a letter to state Attorney General Chris Carr. Citing a conflict of interest, she requests that another prosecutor be assigned to two cases: the one against Garrett Rolfe and Devon Brosnan, charged in the Rayshard Brooks case, and an excessive use of force case against six Atlanta Police Department officers.

Feb. 8 – Carr denies the request.

Feb. 11 – Willis asks Carr to reconsider, but the next day a lawyer in the AG’s office tells Willis that Carr’s initial decision “remains in place.”

April 6 – Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher orders Willis to reveal to him, in private, the basis for her belief she has a conflict of interest.