Atlanta, GA – Incumbent Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is facing a runoff to keep his job after he failed to take first place in the primary in June amid a criminal investigation into how $195,000 meant for crime prevention ended up in his own bank account.
The district attorney’s opponent said Howard’s rapid charging on Wednesday of the officers involved in the shooting of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was a purely political move, WSB reported.
“You indict police really quick when it’s good for you, but when it’s not good for you, you wait for the news to die down. Why don’t you just do what’s right when it’s right?” Democratic challenger Fani Willis asked.
Howard, who was first elected in 1997, had his worst election showing ever and placed second behind Willis, his former chief assistant, in the June primary, WSB reported.
“What you will overwhelmingly see is that the people of Fulton County, Georgia, they desperately want a change,” Willis said after the primary votes were counted.
She told WSB she planned to spend the two months leading up to the Aug. 11 runoff reminding Fulton County voters that Howard, the county’s top law enforcement official, is under investigation himself for multiple alleged crimes.
“He does what is best for him, and what the district attorney should do is what’s for the people. We see that in you stealing $195,000 from black and brown children,” Willis said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) opened the investigation in early May into the manner in which the district attorney used a non-profit to funnel at least $140,000 in city funds to supplement his own salary, according to an investigation by WSB and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Howard is also facing allegations of sexual harassment from Cathy Carter, a 15-year employee who has accused the district attorney of “overt, manipulative and aggressive sexual misconduct and harassment,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Carter’s lawsuit claimed she gave in to Howard’s requests and had random sexual encounters with her boss from 2004 through June of 2019 when she ended the sexual aspect of their relationship.
The lawsuit alleged that the district attorney fired her when she cut off the sex, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Howard’s attorney claims Carter was terminated because she had been arrested for assault while carrying a gun in Clayton County.
However, that wasn’t the first time Howard was accused of sexual harassment by an employee, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported.
The Georgia Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission has also accused the Fulton County DA of 12 public disclosure violations.
That investigation was launched after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on discrepancies between Howard’s personal financial disclosures and his tax filings for a non-profit that he runs called People Partnering for Progress.
Howard has claimed the investigation is a political stunt timed to derail his re-election bid.
He said that he expected to be exonerated and called the criminal investigation an “administrative matter,” WSB reported.
“I have every confidence at the end of that investigation that I will be totally exonerated because I know I’ve done nothing wrong,” Howard told WSB.
WSB and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution have reported that 80 percent of the $250,000 given to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for crime prevention in low-income neighborhoods instead went directly into Howard’s paycheck.
“I asked the city of Atlanta for a supplement to my salary and they agreed to it,” Howard said.
But multiple city council members claimed no knowledge of the approval, according to WSB.
“What I do know, the record shows they passed it by a 14 to zero margin,” Howard insisted. “I think it may have been appropriate for some people to say they don’t remember it because it happened back in 2014.”
He also vowed to continue to aggressively prosecute police officers, WSB reported.
“People want to be safe and I’ve already proven I can do that,” Howard said. “We have prosecuted, for instance, more law enforcement officers who committed crime than any other office in the country.”
International Brotherhood of Police Southeast Regional Director Vince Champion told The Police Tribune that he thinks Howard charged former Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe with murder in the death of Rayshard Brooks on Wednesday to help garner votes.
“Paul Howard is up for reelection – he’s been here for many years so he should be good to go. But out of three in a runoff, he was second in votes. So he’s worried. He wants to get to the rioters for votes. He’s trying to show that he’s hard on crime by going after the officers – he’s trying to live off of prosecuting bad cops,” Champion said.
“But Paul Howard is also under investigation himself for sexual harassment and possible money laundering right now, so he’s also trying to direct the attention away from his own investigation and take himself out of the limelight,” Champion added.
The mayor has also been accused of pandering to violent protesters in recent weeks.
“I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force, and have called for the immediate termination of [Officer Rolfe],” the mayor said the day after the incident.
At least eight Atlanta police officers resigned in disgust after Officer Rolfe was fired.
Howard has been strongly criticized for assertions made during the charging press conference on Wednesday.
An attorney for the other officer charged disputed the district attorney’s claim that he planned to testify against Officer Rolfe.
And the GBI contradicted Howard’s claim they’d blessed the charges and said they were still investigating the incident.
Now-former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields also accused the district attorney of political motives when he charged six Atlanta officers involved in the arrest of two college students during the curfew crackdown due to the George Floyd riots two weeks before the Brooks shooting.
Six officers have been charged in that incident, with the district attorney charging the officers’ use of Tasers during the arrest as “aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.”
“The criminal piece was brought to my attention yesterday through a fellow employee,” then-Chief Shields wrote in an email to the rank-and-file of the department. “Upon receiving the information, I called the DA and strongly expressed my concern, both to the appropriateness and the timing of any charges. Now that the charges have been announced, I’m very concerned with the space we find ourselves in, both tactically and emotionally.”
She said that some nearby police departments that Atlanta had mutual aid agreements with to help each other in emergencies no longer wanted to assist in Atlanta out of fear their officers would face a similar dilemma, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Multiple agencies that were assisting us in managing this incredibly volatile time have pulled out, effective immediately,” Chief Shields told her force. “They are not comfortable with their employees being leveraged politically by the potential of also facing criminal charges.”
However, two weeks after Howard charged officers with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for using their Tasers on the college students, the district attorney determined that Brooks was not a threat to officers after he stole a Taser and fired it at police.
Brooks was shot a split-second after he deployed a stolen Taser at Officer Rolfe’s head.
“We have concluded that at the time Mr. Brooks was shot. He did not pose any immediate threat to the officer or officer,” Howard said at the charging press conference.