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Firing of Atlanta Police Officer Who Shot Rayshard Brooks Reversed

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The firing of the former Atlanta police officer who’s charged with murder in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks was reversed after a review panel found the city failed to follow its own procedures for disciplinary actions.

Garrett Rolfe was fired without an investigation last June, a day after he shot Brooks in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant.

The Atlanta Civil Service Board on Wednesday released its decision on Rolfe’s appeal of the firing.

“Due to the City’s failure to comply with several provisions of the Code and the information received during witnesses’ testimony, the Board concludes the Appellant was not afforded his right to due process,” the board said in its decision. “Therefore, the Board grants the Appeal of Garrett Rolfe and revokes his dismissal as an employee of the APD.”

Rolfe will remain on administrative leave until the criminal charges against him are resolved, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said.

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Atlanta police spokeswoman Chata Spikes said she could not comment on whether he would receive back pay or be paid while on administrative leave.

Brooks’ June 12 death came amid weeks of protests and riots across the U.S. after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis on May 25. The night after Brooks died, the Wendy’s restaurant where he was shot was set on fire.

Atlanta police Sgt. William Dean had testified that the firing seemed rushed, and Rolfe was not given sufficient time to respond, according to the decision.

Dean also said that during his tenure in the police department’s internal affairs unit, he was not aware of any such termination for an alleged firearms violation without the department first conducting an investigation.

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“He further stated that the hurried dismissal may have been due in part to a press conference that was on the horizon,” the decision says.

Lance LoRusso, an attorney for Rolfe, applauded the board’s decision, saying his client now has the opportunity to explain what happened that night.

“We are very pleased at this action and consider it the first step in the total vindication of Officer Garrett Rolfe,” LoRusso said in an emailed statement.

Relatives of Brooks were disappointed and confused by the decision, according to one of their lawyers, L. Chris Stewart.

“We find it mind-boggling that our elected officials and the former chief weren’t aware of the proper procedures for firing an officer,” Stewart said during a Wednesday news conference.

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“The city of Atlanta cannot be the alleged blueprint for civil rights for other cities and not actually fulfill that promise,” he added.

Police responded to complaints that Brooks had fallen asleep in his car in the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s restaurant. Police body camera video shows the 27-year-old man struggling with two officers after they told him he’d had too much to drink to be driving and tried to arrest him.

Brooks grabbed a taser from one of the officers and fled, firing it at Rolfe as he ran. An autopsy found that Brooks was shot twice in the back.

Brooks assaulted both officers, and Rolfe was entitled, as an officer and a citizen, to respond to that assault with deadly force, LoRusso said.

Bottoms said the day after the shooting that she did not believe it was a justified use of deadly force. She called for Rolfe’s immediate firing and announced that she had accepted the resignation of then-Police Chief Erika Shields.

“Given the volatile state of our city and nation last summer, the decision to terminate this officer, after he fatally shot Mr. Brooks in the back, was the right thing to do,” she said in a Wednesday statement.

“Had immediate action not been taken, I firmly believe that the public safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse.”

Bottoms said it’s important to note that the Civil Service Board did not determine whether Rolfe violated police department policies and that the department would determine whether additional investigation is needed.

Police Chief Rodney Bryant, who became interim chief after Shields’ departure and this week was appointed to the role permanently by Bottoms, said in an interview with The Associated Press that it’s not unusual for officers to appeal disciplinary action and that he respected the board’s decision.

Less than a week after the shooting, then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard held a news conference to announce charges against the two officers.

Rolfe faces charges including murder. The other officer, Devin Brosnan, was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath.

Lawyers for both officers have said their clients acted appropriately. Both are free on bond and haven’t been indicted yet.

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