The case of Rayshard Brooks — the black Atlanta man who was killed after an encounter with white police officers — has quickly joined the the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as causes célèbre for police reformers across America.
The case of Brooks, however, is far more complicated than those other two.
Police were called to look in on Brooks when he fell asleep in his car in line at a Wendy’s drive-thru on Friday. After failing a field sobriety test, Brooks allegedly took an officer’s Taser and was running away from him when he fired the Taser in the general direction of the officers. At that point, Brooks was shot in the back and would later die at the hospital.
Unlike Floyd, who died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, or Taylor, who died during a no-knock raid, Brooks represents a problem for protesters.
For one, he was in possession of a weapon at the time. Does that constitute a lethal threat under the law? Did the police officers know he was firing their Taser and not a gun?
These are questions that’ll probably go to a jury, at least if Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has anything to do with it. Howard announced former Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe, who shot Brooks and was fired from the force, is being charged with murder, according to WXIA-TV.
Along with the murder charge for Rolfe, fellow officer Devin Brosnan, who was placed on administrative leave, also faces three charges.
“At the time Mr. Brooks was shot,” Howard said, “he did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury.”
There are iffy aspects to the officers’ cases; neither provided medical assistance to Brooks immediately after he was shot and Howard claims Rolfe “kicked Mr. Brooks while he laid on the ground, while he was there fighting for his life.”
However, iffier aspects lie on Howard’s side of the table.
Howard was already fighting for his political life; in the June 9 primary, he finished more than 12,000 votes behind a challenger. He now faces an August runoff against Fani Willis, one of his former assistants.
In an interview with CNN this week, Howard denied a political motive when it came to the Brooks case: “It is the same criticism we have had in every police case, particularly no matter how important the case was,” he said.
I’m not sure if this is how he deals with every police case, but the evidence seems to indicate this one was fast-tracked.
Consider this: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was called in to investigate Brooks’ death, as they are with most officer-involved shootings. The general process is that the GBI conducts its investigation before charges are filed, if any are. That didn’t happen here.
In a statement via Facebook, the GBI said it “was not aware of today’s press conference before it was conducted,” nor were they “consulted on the charges filed by the District Attorney.”
The GBI says it “will complete its mission of completing an impartial and thorough investigation of this incident and we will submit the file, once completed, to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.” Meanwhile, it will continue investigating the district attorney, as well.
In May, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Howard — Fulton’s district attorney since 1997 — is facing an investigation into $140,000 in nonprofit funds he allegedly used to augment his salary from the city.
This is in addition to a state ethics complaint (which has also prompted an investigation, this time from the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission) regarding the claim he didn’t disclose he was the head of a nonprofit, as well as multiple allegations Howard sexually harassed women who worked for him. One lawsuit accused him of “overt, manipulative and aggressive sexual misconduct and harassment” over 15 years.
See if you can notice a pattern in Howard’s denials:
On the GBI’s investigation into his alleged abuse of the nonprofit: The closeness to the primary “is not lost on me.”
On one of the sexual harassment lawsuits: Howard attorney Anita Wallace Thomas said “the timing of this lawsuit, a mere 43 days before the election, is not lost upon Mr. Howard.”
Meanwhile, when Wolf Blitzer notes a lot of buzz around the fact that he charged Rolfe with murder just after he got forced into a runoff: “It is the same criticism we have had in every police case, particularly no matter how important the case was.”
It’s political until it’s not, apparently.
I understand that it’s quite the expedient thing to charge the police officers in this case. And, after a thorough investigation from the GBI, there would still be a high possibility they’d end up facing charges.
That investigation might not come before the August primary happens, though. And he wonders why questions are being asked. It seems a lot like Howard looked at the voices in his community demanding these cops’ heads on platters, realized the revolutionary foment of the moment and decided he’d go ahead and charge the suspects on his own.
The shooting of Rayshard Brooks shouldn’t be a political football. This isn’t open-and-shut, as much as some would like you to believe it isn’t.
A fast-tracked indictment serves no one and — perhaps this is where the activist class ought to start paying attention — increases the chances the officers will end up going free because of rashness and sloppiness. This was one case that ought to have been played by the book.
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