Critics Call For Independent Prosecutor, Accuse DA Howard Of Rush To Judgment
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who is in a close race for re-election, is being criticized by people accusing him of a rush to judgment in filing criminal charges against the Atlanta police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks.
Howard, who has been the DA since 1997, is facing a criminal investigation himself into his alleged actions as district attorney about discrepancies between financial disclosures he filed with the state and tax filings submitted to the IRS by a nonprofit he heads. Howard also faces allegations of sexual abuse and a state ethics complaint.
Now, the Atlanta police union and some lawmakers are calling for an independent prosecutor, saying Howard rushed to charge former Officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder without a grand jury and before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had completed its investigation. The GBI is the same agency investigating Howard.
The GBI said Howard’s announcement came as a surprise to its investigators, but the GBI said it still intends to complete its probe of the Brooks shooting.
"We will submit the file, once completed, to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office," the GBI said.
Rep. Doug Collins called Howard's move a political one to try to gain votes among protesters and others calling for social justice and police reform.
“Our law enforcement officers deserve better than a District Attorney who places politics before justice,” Collins said on Twitter.
The DA said he used witness statements and videos to determine Brooks had not been a threat to the officers, who interviewed Brooks for more than 40 minutes before deciding to place him into handcuffs.
That was when Brooks tried to flee, tumbling to the ground and scuffling with officers. Brooks eventually made it to his feet, with an officer's Taser stun gun in hand. As he tried to run away, video showed he turned slightly and tried to fire the Taser at Rolfe before he was gunned down in the Wendy's parking lot.
“Brooks never displayed any aggressive behavior during the 41 minutes and 17 seconds,” Howard said, describing Brooks as almost jovial during the officers’ interview.
Brooks was shot twice in the back as he tried to flee. After the first shot, Rolfe said, “I got him,” according to the DA.
Rolfe faces 11 counts, including felony murder and aggravated assault, criminal damage to property and violations to his oath of office.
Officer Devin Brosnan was the first officer to speak with Brooks after a Wendy’s worker called 911 to report a man parked in the drive-thru, appearing to be asleep at the wheel. Brosnan faces charges of aggravated assault and two violations of oath of office.
Rolfe is currently being held in jail without bond.
Philip Holloway, a Cobb County attorney and legal analyst, questioned why the DA went to a family court judge sign the officers' arrests warrants in the first place.
"It might be more difficult for the prosecutor to get a seasoned criminal judge to issue a warrant without asking a few more questions," Holloway told GPB News.
Let me add to this: Judge Reider is a lame duck. She’s only been a judge since 2018. No apparent criminal law experience. So why her? Why would DA Howard seek her out for arrest warrants in the #RayshardBrooks case? https://t.co/hSfbmd7cqS— Philip Holloway (@PhilHollowayEsq) June 19, 2020
"I think it would have been appropriate for a judge when presented with this warrant application to say, 'Hey, wait a minute. There's a lot going on here, and maybe we need some more information.' You know, judges aren't supposed to be rubber stamps for anybody," Holloway said.
Atlanta interim police Chief Rodney Bryant said in a news conference that he supports the officers of the Atlanta Police Department. While he wants swift justice, Bryant said understanding the disciplinary process must be adhered to.
“We encourage due process for those we encounter as well as ourselves,” Bryant said.
Asked if the DA informed him before the charges were filed against the officers in Brooks' case, Bryant said simply, "I was surprised."
While a higher than normal number of Atlanta police officers have called in sick over the last week in what has been deemed an unofficial "blue flu," Bryant said officers will respond to 911 calls in the city.
Howard is a six-time incumbent who has run unopposed since 2000. This year he faces Fani Willis, his one-time chief deputy prosecutor, whom Howard intends to cast as an ally of police unions and Republicans, according to Law.com.
Willis countered Wednesday that she is “a proud Democrat and the daughter of a civil rights leader."