Caroline Goldstein
Updated Jun 18, 2020 @ 11:23 am
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rayshard brooks killed by police officer at wendy's, protestor with sign
Credit: ELIJAH NOUVELAGE, Getty Images

Garrett Rolfe, the since-fired Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot on June 12th, has been charged with felony murder, according to The New York Times. He faces 10 other criminal charges connected to the murder. If convicted, Rolfe could face a life sentence without parole or the death penalty. Rolfe’s partner, Devin Brosnan, who was placed on administrative duty, has also been charged with aggravated assault and two other charges.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced the charges in a press conference on Wednesday, June 17th. Howard revealed more details of the 27-year-old’s murder after reviewing captured footage of the shooting and speaking with witnesses. After shooting Brooks to the ground, Rolfe declared “I got him.” Rolfe then kicked Brooks as he was “fighting for his life.” Brosnan allegedly stood on Brooks’ shoulder while his partner assaulted Brooks. According to Howard, the police officers failed to call an ambulance for almost three minutes after Rolfe shot Brooks, who ultimately died after surgery at a nearby hospital.

Video footage of Brooks’ murder, which has been widely circulated, reveals that Brooks had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru lane. Brosnan, the responding officer, had Brooks pull into a parking spot, after which Rolfe arrived at the scene. For more than 40 minutes, Brooks was cooperative and “almost jovial,” according to Howard, while Rolfe and Brosnan subjected him to a series of field sobriety tests. The encounter turned violent when Brooks failed a Breathalyzer test and the officers began to arrest him. (Howard said that the officers did not inform Brooks that he was being arrested for driving under the influence, which is a violation of police policy.) Brooks resisted the arrest, wrestled with the officers, grabbed hold of one of their Tasers, and ran. Rolfe then shot at Brooks three times before Brooks fell to the ground.

Rolfe’s lawyers said that the officer “feared for his safety” after Brooks’ “violent attack.” However, Howard determined that Brooks “never presented himself as a threat.”

Brooks’ murder occurred in the midst of global protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality. His death ignited a new wave of demonstrators in Atlanta demanding justice, which led to burning down the Wendy’s restaurant where Brooks was killed. Shortly after Brooks’ death, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced “a series of changes aimed at dramatically overhauling how the Police Department uses force,” according to The New York Times. Erika Shields, the city’s police chief, resigned from her post.

The New York Times also reports that legal experts believe the swiftness and severity of Rolfe’s charges are a direct reflection of a “sense of urgency fueled by recent protests.”

“‘There’s a realization that these aren’t simply unrelated cases of police brutality,’” Jimmy Gurulé, a law professor at Notre Dame and a former federal and state prosecutor told the Times. “‘I think there’s an awareness of a serious problem with policing in this country.’”

If you ever feel your stamina flagging over the coming weeks, months, and years, here’s your motivation: Public pressure can work. Let’s keep using it to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, Robert Fuller, Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Layleen Polanco, and the countless other Black people who have died tragic, wrongful, and violent deaths as a direct result of systemic racism.