Two days before the second anniversary of Rayshard Brooks’ death, the two Atlanta police officers charged in the 27-year-old’s shooting filed federal lawsuits alleging they were falsely arrested and their constitutional rights were violated.
Attorney Lance LoRusso filed the lawsuits late Friday on behalf of Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan, the officers who attempted to arrest Brooks in the parking lot of an Atlanta Wendy’s. Named as defendants are the city of Atlanta, Fulton County, former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former DA Paul Howard, who brought criminal charges against both men days after the shooting.
Former Fulton County Assistant DA Clint Rucker and Donald Hannah, a former criminal investigator for the DA’s office, are also named in the suits. Former Atlanta police chief Erika Shields is named as a defendant only in Rolfe’s lawsuit.
Brooks, who had been asleep at the wheel in a drive-thru line, punched Brosnan hard enough to cause a concussion and took his Taser when the officers tried to arrest him on a DUI charge. He was fatally shot by Rolfe after aiming the device while running through the parking lot, surveillance video showed.
Rolfe was fired one day after the June 12, 2020, shooting. Shields announced at a news conference that afternoon she was stepping aside as chief and later left the department.
Rolfe was reinstated by the city’s Civil Service Board in May 2021 but remains on administrative leave.
His lawsuit says Bottoms made the decision to fire him and claims the termination was conducted in an unnecessarily public manner and that Bottoms violated her oath of office by getting involved.
Brooks’ killing came after weeks of intense demonstrations over George Floyd’s murder. The shooting, captured on video, kicked off another wave of protests across Atlanta that at times turned destructive.
Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC
Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC
Five days after the shooting, Howard announced criminal charges against both officers. Rolfe was charged with 11 counts, including felony murder. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath of office.
The officers’ lawsuits say they were attacked by Brooks and had the right to use force to prevent him from “imminent use of unlawful force against them.”
Both lawsuits maintain the officers’ lives were put in danger after the former mayor identified them publicly, with Brosnan having to leave the state as a precaution. Bottoms also rushed to judgement by declaring the incident a “murder” and insinuating Brosnan and Rolfe were criminals, the lawsuit says.
Howard, attorneys argued, sought to profit politically from the shooting during an election year and went on his own “press blitz.” He also sought criminal charges before the GBI’s investigation was complete.
The complaint alleges Howard, Bottoms and the other defendants worked together in a “deliberate, concentrated and malicious effort” to deny Brosnan and Rolfe their constitutional rights. According to the lawsuits, both officers were denied due process when arrest warrants were obtained through false and misleading statements.
Both were booked at Fulton County Jail on June 18, 2020, six days after the shooting and a day after being charged. Brosnan remains on APD’s payroll but is not on active duty and not currently living in Georgia, according to his attorney.
Two years later, the special prosecutor now handling the case said his team is awaiting reports from hired experts before deciding whether to proceed with the charges.
“We expect to have those within a few days,” said Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. “As soon we get those that will enable us to decide a course of action to take on the case.”
The experts’ findings will include the GBI’s case file, witness statements and any video of the shooting. The incident was captured on the officers’ body cameras, bystanders’ cellphones and the restaurant’s video surveillance system.
Skandalakis was assigned the case last year after current Fulton DA Fani Willis, who beat Howard, recused herself.
He told the AJC late Friday his team has three options. They can proceed with the case against the officers, drop the charges altogether or present the experts’ findings to a grand jury, either civil or criminal.
“My team will choose the best option based on evidence and the law,” he said, adding the experts’ findings will be vital to their decision.
The longtime prosecutor said he understands emotions are high surrounding the case, especially in today’s climate.
“I’m cognizant of all that, but our decision has to be based upon the facts and the law,” Skandalakis said. “I just need to be transparent with my decision. I know the community is very interested in this, but my decision will be guided upon the facts and the law.”
Fulton County spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said the county does not comment on pending litigation.
Both officers are seeking declaratory judgement that their rights were violated; compensatory damages of more than $75,000; an award for attorneys’ fees and costs expended and any other relief the court deems just and proper.