Atlanta, GA – An attorney for former Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe on Thursday accused Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard of behaving “unethically” and capitalizing on a series of national tragedies to help his re-election campaign.
“I’ve been prosecuting or defending Georgians in the criminal justice system for 25 years,” attorney Noah Pines said in a lengthy statement posted to the official Facebook page of the Georgia Law Enforcement Organization.
“But never in my career have I seen a District Attorney act so unethically without regard for his professional obligations in pursuit of reelection,” the statement said.
“Twice in the past few weeks Paul Howard has put his own ambitions ahead of the good of his constituents as he seeks to capitalize on a series of national tragedies,” Pines said. “Under Georgia’s Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8, Paul Howard is prohibited from making ‘extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused.’”
“In fact, he is only permitted to inform the ‘pubic of the nature and extent’ of his actions ‘that serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose,’” the attorney for former Officer Rolfe continued. “He has violated that rule today and also made blatant false statements. He has also acted rashly, before the official investigation has been completed by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).”
On Wednesday, Howard held a press conference to announce he was charging former Officer Rolfe with murder for fatally shooting 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks after Brooks discharged a Taser at Officer Rolfe’s face.
The shooting occurred after officers responded to a call for a man asleep in the Wendy’s drive-thru.
“On June 12, 2020, Officer [Devin] Brosnan responded to a call that a person was passed out in a car at a Wendy’s,” Pines explained in his statement. “Suspecting that the driver, Rayshard Brooks, was drunk, Officer Brosnan requested the assistance of an officer with specialized training in conducting DUI investigations: Officer Rolfe.”
“The DUI investigation that followed was routine, and at the end of it, Officer Rolfe determined that he had probable cause arrest Mr. Brooks,” the attorney continued. “No one is disputing that probable cause existed for Mr. Brooks’ arrest. And there is no argument that Officer Rolfe was anything other than courteous to Mr. Brooks over the course of their encounter. There is also no dispute that, up until the moment of his arrest, Mr. Brooks, too, was polite and cooperative.”
Officers administered a field sobriety test and established probable cause to arrest Brooks, but when they went to put the suspect in handcuffs, the previously calm man attacked them.
“Suddenly, something changed. Mr. Brooks began to struggle with, and attack, both Officer Brosnan and Officer Rolfe,” Pines said.
He stole Atlanta Police Officer Devin Brosnan’s Taser, tased the officer, and then fled with the weapon in hand.
Officer Rolfe pursued Brooks on foot with his own Taser in hand, until Brooks turned back and fired his Taser at Officer Rolfe.
That’s when Officer Rolfe dropped his Taser, drew his pistol, and fatally shot Brooks.
“We have concluded that at the time Mr. Brooks was shot. He did not pose any immediate threat to the officer or officer,” Howard told reporters at the press conference.
But the attorney for Officer Rolfe said everything about the way the district attorney has handled the investigation and charges has been wrong, according to state law.
“Under Georgia law, Mr. Brooks’ forceful resistance to arrest, and his attack on the officers, constituted felony obstruction,” Pines explained. “All Georgia citizens, including police officers, are entitled to use force to defend themselves from forcible felonies. Over the course of the encounter, Officers Brosnan and Rolfe attempted to use the least amount of force necessary to end the encounter and ensure their safety, while Mr. Brooks continued to escalate, until he at last he punched Officer Rolfe in the face, a second felony.”
“Then, Mr. Brooks took Officer Brosnan’s TASER, a third felony,” the attorney continued. “A TASER is an offensive weapon under Georgia law and has been declared to be a deadly weapon by Paul Howard; in fact, one of his investigators swore that a TASER is a deadly weapon before the Honorable Belinda Edwards on June 2, 2020.”
“One video shows Mr. Brooks pointing the TASER at Officer Brosnan’s head, and Officer Brosnan’s lawyer stated that Mr. Brooks shot Officer Brosnan with the TASER, a fourth felony,” Pines ticked off the crime committed by the suspect. “At that point, Officer Rolfe deployed his TASER, but it had no effect. Mr. Brooks began running through the parking lot armed with Officer Brosnan’s TASER. But he wanted to deter pursuit. So instead of continuing to run, he paused, reached back, pointed, and fired what we now know was Officer Brosnan’s TASER at Officer Rolfe; this was an additional aggravated assault, a fifth felony.”
“Officer Rolfe heard a sound like a gunshot and saw a flash in front of him, and so he did what any officer in that situation would do: he dropped his TASER, pulled his gun, and fired it at Mr. Brooks. Mr. Brooks fell to the ground,” the attorney explained.
The district attorney said multiple times during the charging press conference that investigators had determined that Brooks presented no threat to the officers when he was shot.
Howard also claimed the investigation and charges had been determined in concert with the GBI, and he bragged that Officer Brosnan had turned state’s witness and agreed to testify against former Officer Rolfe.
But almost as soon as the press conference ended, Officer Brosnan’s attorney and the GBI both said Howard had lied.
Don Samuel, a lawyer for Officer Devin Brosnan, says his client has not agreed to be a state’s witness, as District Attorney Paul Howard said, or to plead guilty to the charges. #RayshardBrooks
— Bill Rankin (@ajccourts) June 17, 2020
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) released a statement on their official Facebook page shortly that said it had not yet concluded its investigation of the incident.
“Had Paul Howard waited for the GBI to complete its investigation he would have learned that while Rayshard Brooks’ death was tragic, Officer Garrett Rolfe’s actions were justified under Georgia law and that there is no legal basis to charge him with 11 felonies,” Pines said in his statement.
The attorney also disputed Howard’s claims that the officers had failed to render aid to Brooks after he was shot.
“Officer Rolfe gathered himself, and then he immediately called for EMS and began life-saving measures,” Pines said.
Then he went on to explain justified deadly force according to the law rather than by the definition applied by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office.
“That Officer Rolfe was justified is clear under Georgia law,” Pines said. “A police officer may use deadly force to apprehend a suspected felon when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury; when the officer reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of physical violence to the officer or others; or when there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm.”
“When Mr. Brooks chose to attack two officers, to disarm one of them, and to point and fire a deadly weapon at Officer Rolfe, he took their lives, and his own, into his hands,” he explained. “He took the risk that their justified response might be a deadly one.”
Pines went on to say that “not every tragedy is a crime,” and that prosecuting an officer whose actions were justified by law was a purely political move.
“Although we can all understand the grief of Mr. Brooks’ family, Officer Rolfe’s actions were justified by the law. But Paul Howard’s choice to charge him is justified only by his hopes to improve his performance against Fani Willis in the upcoming runoff election,” the officer’s attorney said.
But the attorney for Officer Rolfe was not the first person to accuse the Fulton County district attorney of malfeasance for political gain.
His opponent in the upcoming primary runoff 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.
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.