Lawyers for Brooks family, college students want special prosecutor

Chris Stewart, attorney for Taniyah Pilgrim (left) and the family of Rayshard Brooks, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, outside of the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. The press conference was held by the attorneys of Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, college students who were tazed by Atlanta police officers while inside their vehicle last May, and the family of Rayshard Brooks, a man shot and killed by police last June. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

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Chris Stewart, attorney for Taniyah Pilgrim (left) and the family of Rayshard Brooks, speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, February 16, 2021, outside of the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. The press conference was held by the attorneys of Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, college students who were tazed by Atlanta police officers while inside their vehicle last May, and the family of Rayshard Brooks, a man shot and killed by police last June. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Ex-cop Garrett Rolfe’s attorney files motion to dismiss, citing prosecutor absence

With Fulton County’s district attorney and Georgia’s attorney general each insisting that the other should handle two high-profile criminal cases involving current and former police officers, the lawyer for one of the ex-cops on Tuesday filed a motion to dismiss, citing the ongoing jurisdictional turf war.

“With no prosecutor to handle the case, it might never be resolved,” wrote Noah Pines, who represents Garrett Rolfe, the fired Atlanta police officer charged with felony murder in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks last June. Another officer on the scene that night, Devin Brosnan, faces a charge of aggravated assault and other lesser counts.

Attorneys for Brooks’ family and Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young — the two college students stunned with Tasers and detained last May for allegedly violating a protest-related curfew and ignoring officers’ instructions — met with Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis on Tuesday. The use of Tasers against the students led Willis’ predecessor, Paul Howard, to bring charges against six Atlanta Police Department officers. Howard is also the one who brought criminal charges against Rolfe and Brosnan in the Brooks case.

Attorneys said they were largely unmoved by Willis’ reasonings in seeking recusal.

“It doesn’t matter what we believe,” said attorney Chris Stewart, who represents Brooks’ kin and Pilgrim. “It’s clear she believes a special prosecutor would be better equipped to handle those cases. The only thing we can do is support that.”

State Attorney General Chris Carr has twice denied Willis’ requests to have her office disqualified from the cases. Carr said Willis’ stated conflicts of interest are personal to former district attorney Howard and do not pertain to Willis’ office. Willis argues that Howard’s actions violated ethical standards and were possibly illegal.

“While legal ethics experts and I have expressed our concern with the Attorney General’s failure to take action to protect these cases from problems caused by my predecessor’s conduct, I will continue to move forward in ensuring that justice is done,” Willis said in a statement Tuesday.

A Carr spokesperson pushed back, saying the DA’s requests “fail to meet what is required to invoke the conflict statute.”

“In her letters, the Fulton County District Attorney makes a good case for why her predecessor has a conflict but not her own,” the AG’s statement reads. “The primary role of the Attorney General is to follow the law as written.”

Carr’s previous comments about the conflict statute have created some confusion, however. In an interview last year with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carr said his duties are largely “administrative” when presented with a disqualification request.

But Harold Spence, one of the attorneys who met with Willis on Tuesday, said he agreed with Carr’s position on the cases involving his clients.

“The three reasons given in that motion have nothing to do with her,” Spence said. “That the former district attorney made unethical public statements. That the former district attorney might be a witness. That the former district attorney is the subject of a state investigation.”

Ultimately, Carr may be compelled to either take the case himself or appoint an outside prosecutor. Willis said she doesn’t plan to oppose an earlier motion filed by Rolfe’s defense when Howard was district attorney. That motion seeks the Fulton DA’s recusal in the Brooks matter, and legal experts said a ruling judge would likely transfer the case to Carr’s office.

Pines’ latest motion argues that the back and forth between Willis and Carr is unfair to his client because of the “restrictive conditions” of his bond. Rolfe must wear an ankle monitor and abide by a court-imposed curfew.

Pines also cited the “societal stigma” Rolfe endures as a defendant in a murder case. Pines said the dismissal should be granted since there is no prosecutor to oppose it.

Justin Miller, co-counsel for Pilgrim and the Brooks family, said they have been traumatized by the legal limbo.

“You think these police are getting prosecuted and it doesn’t start. They’re in jail and they’re out of jail,” Miller said. “What the family needs, and wants, is a road to closure.”

Toine Pilgrim, Taniyah’s father, said the case continues to weigh heavily on his daughter and needs to move forward.

“Just seeing where she was and where she is now is gut-wrenching,” Pilgrim said.


The story so far

In June 2020, Rayshard Brooks scuffled with Atlanta officers in the parking lot outside a Wendy’s on University Avenue after they attempted to arrest him on a DUI charging, striking one and grabbing a Taser from the other. Brooks fired the Taser in the officers’ direction as he ran away. He was shot and killed as he fled.

His shooting exacerbated tensions over police use of force that had roiled Atlanta and cities across the nation following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement.