Prosecutor appointed in Rayshard Brooks shooting death case

More than a year after Rayshard Brooks was shot to death by an Atlanta police officer in a Wendy’s parking lot, the case finally has a prosecutor.

It took a judge’s order last month to compel State Attorney General Chris Carr to disqualify Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis’ office. On Wednesday, Carr’s office announced the appointment of Pete Skandalakis.

For more than 25 years, Skandalakis served as the district attorney for the Coweta Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Carroll, Coweta, Heard, Meriwether and Troup counties. In 2007, he was named Georgia’s District Attorney of the Year.

In 2018, Skandalakis became the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia. The council assists local DAs with criminal cases and offers training to prosecutors. When the General Assembly is in session, Skandalakis is a constant presence, often weighing in on legislation that affects the criminal justice system.

“Director Skandalakis is a well-respected, experienced prosecutor who, in his non-partisan role as Executive Director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, represents the interests of all district attorneys and solicitors in our state,” the Attorney General’s office said in a statement. “We are confident that the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia has the appropriate resources, and Director Skandalakis is the best lead for this case moving forward.”

Georgia State University law professor Clark D. Cunningham said the appointment brings a wealth of experience and credibility to the task.

“This makes the conduct of (former Fulton County DA) Paul Howard moot,” Cunningham said. “(Skandalakis’ appointment) is better for everyone concerned.”

Howard’s actions in swiftly bringing charges against officers Garrett Rolfe, who shot Brooks, and Devin Brosnan, led Willis to twice seek disqualification from the case. Carr twice refused, saying any conflict of interest belonged to Howard alone.

Howard’s use of subpoenas in the case against the two officers is currently under investigation by the GBI. The defense had also filed a motion for Howard’s recusal last July, arguing the former DA’s statements to the public were “ethically inappropriate.”

In a statement, Skandalakis said his team plans “a thorough review of the facts and circumstances surrounding this case and, as with any case that comes before us, we will proceed where the evidence leads us.”

“We recognize that the community is eager for a resolution and we ask for patience as we begin our work,” Skandalakis said.

Skandalakis has prosecuted a number of high-profile murder cases, as well as some public corruption cases. In 2008, he secured the guilty plea and five-year prison sentence against former Luthersville Police Chief David Yates for charges stemming from sexual encounters with two women.

In a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Willis said the Brooks case is fraught with peril.

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

Brooks was in the process of being handcuffed for a suspected DUI when he broke free, hitting Brosnan, who doctors later determined suffered a concussion. Brooks grabbed Brosnan’s Taser, aiming it in Rolfe’s direction as he fled from the scene. Rolfe then shot Brooks. Both officers are white. Brooks was Black.

Rolfe’s defenders say he was merely following his training. The 28-year-old officer, fired the day after the shooting by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, was recently reinstated to the force by the Atlanta Civil Service Board. The order did not return him to active duty.

Noah Pines is one of Rolfe’s attorneys.

“Now that the State is represented we are looking forward to getting a hearing scheduled on our motion to modify Officer Rolfe’s bond so he can go back to work,” he said.

Terms of Rolfe’s bond prevents him from possessing a firearm or being around other officers.

Attorney Chris Stewart, who represents Brooks’ family, said the long delay has been difficult on his clients.

“I know Pete. He’s a good guy and lawyer,” Stewart said. “I’m confident he will set an example for all prosecutors on seeking justice for the Brooks family.”

Stewart also represents Taniyah Pilgrim, a Spelman college student who, along with her boyfriend, Messiah Young, were stunned with Tasers and arrested for violating a curfew imposed during civil unrest last year in downtown Atlanta. Six APD officers were charged for what prosecutors deemed as unnecessary force.

Willis sought recusal from that case as well. Carr on Wednesday named Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Samir Patel as the new lead prosecutor in that case. In a statement, Carr’s office said, “District Attorney Patel’s experience as a prosecutor, a public defender and a judge will serve him well as he takes over this case.”