Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr., who announced charges against the officers involved in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, is in the middle of a contentious runoff election and under state investigation — political realities that may be considered as his actions on Brooks’s case take the spotlight.
Howard has risen to the spotlight in recent days following his announcement of charges against the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks. Former officer Garret Rolfe, who discharged his gun during Friday’s altercation, has been charged with 11 counts, “including felony murder and aggravated assault, criminal damage to property and violations to his oath of office,” while officer Devin Brosnan faces charges of “aggravated assault and two violations of oath of office,” according to WSB-TV.
The district attorney announced charges against the officers on Wednesday — an action that took the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) by surprise:
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was requested by the Atlanta Police Department on Friday night, June 12th, to…
As the case continues to unfold, Howard is bracing himself for an August 11 runoff against Democrat challenger Fani Willis, former chief assistant to the district attorney, who led him by seven percentage points in the June 9 primary:
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
THE CITIZENS OF FULTON COUNTY DESERVE BETTER!#FaniWillisforDA
Elect Fani Willis for Fulton County District Attorney
Early Voting Begins – July 20, 2020
Runoff Election – August 11, 2020
— Fani Willis For Fulton District Attorney (@FaniWillisForDA) June 11, 2020
She has accused the district attorney of making tough calls based on political expediency — not principle.
“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,” Willis said. “Why don’t you just do what’s right when it’s right?”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) echoed that sentiment.
“Charging an Atlanta police officer with felony murder before the completion of the GBI’s investigation was a political decision, not a legal one,” he said in a statement.
Howard is also subject to a state investigation, which could help explain the seemingly tense relationship between the district attorney and GBI, as detailed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May:
The GBI has opened an investigation of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and his use of a nonprofit to funnel at least $140,000 in city of Atlanta funds to supplement his salary, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have learned.
The criminal investigation comes at a time when Howard, Fulton’s DA since 1997, is being challenged in the Democratic primary for reelection and is facing allegations of sexual harassment, which he strongly denies.
WSB-TV recently reported:
Channel 2 and AJC reporters discovered that the city of Atlanta sent $250,000 to the district attorney’s office for crime prevention programs and almost 80 percent of that went into Howard’s paycheck.
“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, his challenger, said.
“I asked the city of Atlanta for a supplement to my salary and they agreed to it,” Howard stated last week, expressing confidence that he will be “totally exonerated because I know I’ve done nothing wrong” while continuing to tout his record as district attorney.
“We have prosecuted, for instance, more law enforcement officers who committed crime than any other office in the country,” Howard said.
Howard also faces “accusations of sexual harassment and retaliation raised by two women who worked in his office—claims he has denied,” per reports.
Despite that, the district attorney refused to take questions regarding the bubbling political realities, telling reporters this week, “Let’s deal with Mr. Brooks today.”
“We can deal with the election tomorrow,” he added.
However, the political context of Howard’s actions is notable, given his controversial charges against the Atlanta officers involved in the shooting of Brooks and his radical propositions for reforms, like the removal of grand juries in officer-involved shootings:
DA Howard says laws need to change and a District Attorney should be able to sign an indictment instead of waiting on a grand jury. He says he has nine recommendations for police reform. More today at 4pm. @wsbtv pic.twitter.com/9TU4L5HOSt
— Kristen Holloway (@KHollowayWSB) June 17, 2020
Howard said on Wednesday that, at the time Brooks was shot, “he did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury.”
During the altercation, Brooks obtained a taser and attempted to flee the scene. As the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reported, “Officers pursued Brooks on foot and during the chase, Brooks turned and pointed the Taser at the officer.”
“The officer fired his weapon, striking Brooks,” GBI added.
Howard also said they had concluded that Rolfe “was aware that the Taser in Brooks’ possession, it was fired twice, and once it’s fired twice it presented no danger to him or to any other persons.”
However, just weeks ago, Howard struck a different tone on the use of the weapon. Several Atlanta officers were charged with aggravated assault for using their tasers in the arrests of students Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim.
“As many of you all know under Georgia law a taser is considered as a deadly weapon under Georgia law,” the district attorney said during a press conference on the incident:
Here is video of the DA from that press conference:
"A taser is considered as a deadly weapon under Georgia law." pic.twitter.com/WBCKNYdZ0W
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) June 17, 2020
An attorney for Atlanta officer Brosnan revealed on Wednesday that the cop suffered a concussion during the altercation with Brooks.
“Devin ends up taking out his Taser and yelling at him to ‘stop fighting, stop fighting,’” Don Samuel, an attorney for Brosnan, said during a Wednesday appearance on CNN. “Mr. Brooks grabbed the Taser from him and shoots … Devin gets shot with the Taser.”
“He then falls over and lands on his head on the pavement and gets a concussion,” he added.
Rolfe’s lawyers also contend that the former officer’s action was justified.
“Mr. Brooks violently attacked two officers and disarmed one of them. When Mr. Brooks turned and pointed an object at Officer Rolfe, any officer would have reasonably believed that he intended to disarm, disable, or seriously injure him,” a spokesperson for the LoRusso Law Firm said.
“Officer Rolfe is well known to the courts and there is no compelling reason to bring any charges against them before the GBI has completed its investigation and published its findings,” the spokesperson added.