One day before charges might be filed against the ex-officer who killed Rayshard Brooks, a black Georgia sheriff said the shooting was justified.
Brooks, 27, was killed by an Atlanta police officer Friday night outside a Wendy’s restaurant after failing a sobriety test, fighting with two officers, taking a Taser from one and running away.
Officer Garrett Rolfe was fired after footage showed him shooting at Brooks multiple times from the back as Brooks fled. The second officer, Devin Brosnan, is on administrative duty.
Atlanta’s police chief promptly resigned. The mayor on Monday called the killing of the black man a “murder.”
But Burke County Sheriff Alfonzo Williams said Rolfe’s actions were “completely justified.”
“We saw in the video that Brooks is engaged in a fight with the officers,” said Williams, whose county is about 160 miles east of Atlanta.
“Brooks is able to take a non-lethal weapon, a Taser, away from one of the officers, and he flees,” Williams said Tuesday. “Brooks turned back to the officers and fired the Taser.”
Footage shows the deployed Taser apparently missed an officer.
Williams said Brooks’ use of the device was extremely dangerous because it could have immobilized the officer for several seconds, possibly allowing Brooks to steal the officer’s gun or seriously injure him.
“If an officer is hit with that Taser, all of his muscles will be locked up, and he’ll have the inability to move and to respond,” Williams said.
“This was a completely justified shooting.”
Law enforcement analyst disagrees
Body camera footage shows that early in the encounter, an officer asked Brooks whether he could pat him down, and Brooks agreed.
“Now you know he’s not in possession of a firearm or any other deadly weapon,” CNN law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey said.
After Brooks stole an officer’s Taser and apparently fired it, it was very unlikely he’d be able to deploy it a second time, Ramsey said.
“Once you fire the Taser, it has to recycle before it can be used again,” said Ramsey, a former Philadelphia police commissioner. “I would doubt very seriously if most citizens would even know how to operate a Taser.”
Ramsey said instead of shooting Brooks, the officer could have continued to run after him and call for backup. He noted that Brooks’ car was still in the Wendy’s parking lot.
“You’ve got the car. You’ve asked for his driver’s license. You know who he is. So even if you don’t get him right now, you can get him later,” Ramsey said.
A decision on possible charges is coming soon
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. said a decision on whether charges will be filed could come as early as Wednesday. Those charges, he said, could range from voluntary manslaughter to murder. He said he could file charges against both officers.
“If this had been a civilian, there’s a possibility charges would have been lodged against them already,” he said.
“What I think people around the country are saying is: ‘We want one system so that both the police and citizens are treated equally.’ That’s what we are hoping to do by making our decision on Wednesday.”
Newly released records from Atlanta police show Rolfe was the subject of a 2016 use-of-force complaint. That resulted in a written reprimand in 2017.
Rolfe’s record includes several citizen complaints, all with notes that no action was taken.
Justin Miller, an attorney for the Brooks family, told CNN that shows a pattern with Rolfe.
CNN has reached out to the department for more information on the records and has also reached out to the Atlanta Police Foundation.
Rolfe and Brosnan have not responded to repeated requests for comment.
Brooks family Attorney L. Chris Stewart said they believe Brooks was murdered but they will wait for the DA to make his announcement. Stewart said he has not spoken with Howard recently.
Protesters say excessive force must stop
For the past three weeks, protesters across the country have demanded an end to systemic racism following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Brooks’ death renewed calls for more police reforms.
Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Lloyd Pierce was one of the protesters who denounced police brutality.
“I know one day I’ll die a black man … but I don’t want to die because I’m a black man,” he said.
‘I can never get my husband back’
Brooks was a father of three young daughters – ages 1, 2, and 8 – and a 13-year-old stepson. He had spent much of Friday celebrating his daughter’s 8th birthday ahead of a planned birthday party on Saturday.
Family attorneys say the 8-year-old daughter waited for her father in her birthday dress that morning. But he never came home.
“There is no justice that can ever make me feel happy about what’s been done,” Brooks’ widow Tomika Miller said Monday. “I can never get my husband back. I can never get my best friend. I can never tell my daughter, ‘He’s coming to take you skating or swimming lessons.’”
“It’s going to be a long time before this family heals.”
Brooks’ niece Chassidy Evans said she had been following the protests against police brutality. But “this time it landed on our front doorstep.”
“Not only are we hurt, we are angry. When does this stop?” she said. “We’re not only pleading for justice. We’re pleading for change.”
Fire department looking for arson suspects
Atlanta Fire Section Chief James Oliver said that they are still looking for the two women suspected of starting fires at the Wendy’s where Brooks was shot.
The fire, started on Saturday night, gutted the restaurant.
Oliver said the fire was started using multiple incendiary devices, including homemade blow torches, fireworks and combustible materials lit and thrown inside the restaurant.
Fire Chief Randall Slaughter said that fire crews were at the scene before the fire was set, but the building was surrounded and they could not access it. One truck was damaged by thrown objects, he said.
“Once we tried to make access and the position became so dangerous for our firefighters, there was no way we were going to allow them to continue to go in and have the possibility of getting hurt themselves,” Slaughter said.
CNN’s Jamiel Lynch, Steve Almasy, Tina Burnside, Brianna Keilar, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland contributed to this report.