The prosecutor just convicted himself.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, the man in charge of prosecuting the police officer who shot a man to death on June 12 in an Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot, used an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday to claim a key element in the case was unimportant.
He also openly declared the real question was political, not the guilt or innocence of the accused.
Howard is the one who made the decision to charge now-former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder stemming from the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks after Brooks forcibly resisted arrest, stole a police officer’s Taser and aimed it at police while trying to escape.
At a June 2 news conference where he announced charges against six police officers for allegedly using excessive force against protesters, Howard called a Taser a “deadly weapon under Georgia law.”
Just listen to the Fulton County DA, Paul Howard. He called a taser a deadly weapon when Atlanta officers used it against two college students, thus charging them with aggravated assault. Now apparently it’s not, when it’s used AGAINST police officers. It’s double talk pic.twitter.com/xthrnHU3NM
— Jacob C. (@jcupapplet) June 17, 2020
But in his Cuomo interview Tuesday, Howard said the Taser is irrelevant.
“I think it’s nonsense. I think it’s simply a diversion from the real facts,” Howard told Cuomo (video is available at The Daily Caller). “This case has very little to do with a Taser, Chris.”
So, what does it have to do with? Howard’s answer should be chilling to anyone who cares about the rule of law.
“I think this whole argument about the Tasers is way off the track,” he said, “and I’m hoping that people will really get to the really substance of this case and really what I think people should be talking about is why is it in this country that African Americans continue to get killed by police officers?”
In the interview with Cuomo, even Howard didn’t dispute that Brooks had taken the Taser — an act that to most people would constitute a serious crime committed by an armed and clearly dangerous criminal suspect.
But most people are not, like Howard, a Democratic district attorney caught up in a runoff election after coming in second in a primary less than three days before the shooting, as WSBT-TV reported.
Howard is also, as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, facing a criminal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for allegedly diverting city of Atlanta funds for his own use. That’s not likely to help him with that runoff.
Howard, in short, has a very good political reason for taking a hard line on a white police officer shooting a black man to court voter support in a largely black area like Fulton County.
In the wake of the George Floyd death in Minneapolis police custody May 25, and the protests, riots and looting that followed, there’s not a more inflammatory issue in the country right now, as Howard well knows. (The Wendy’s where the Brooks shooting took place was destroyed by arson.)
But the idea that police officers in the United States are engaged in wanton shooting of unarmed black people has been thoroughly studied, and repeatedly debunked (recently by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.) But it’s almost tailor-made for a Democratic prosecutor trying to save his political career with a weak case of murder against a white police officer accused of shooting a black man.
But to do that, Howard first has to get by the fact that Brooks was armed with a Taser — what Howard himself had called a “deadly weapon” when it was in police hands.
So he dismisses a “distraction” in the Brooks shooting and focuses on the false argument that the “substance” of the case is “why is it in this country that African Americans continue to get killed by police officers?”
That’s not the “substance” of the case as Howard, who has been Fulton County’s district attorney since 1997, knows it.
In the United States, every criminal case should be decided on the evidence of the guilt or innocence of the accused, in the specific crime that led to the prosecution.
It’s not decided on what the defendant might have done in other situations, it’s not decided what others who wear the same uniform might have done. It’s not decided based on the skin color of either the alleged victim or the defendant.
But that’s apparently the ground Howard wants to use to find a law enforcement officer guilty of felony murder — a crime that can carry the death penalty in Georgia, as Fox News reported.
Whether Howard could prove such a serious charge against a police officer based on the evidence won’t be known until he takes the case to trial — assuming, of course, he can win his primary runoff and manages to avoid prosecution in the criminal investigation he’s under now.
But what Howard did prove Tuesday night is that his approach to the Rayshard Brooks case is the crassest kind of political manipulation of criminal law.
Howard might never be able to convict Rolfe of anything, but on Tuesday night, he convicted himself of abusing his office and the trust of the legal system he’s supposed to serve.
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