Garrett Rolfe and his attorney, Lance LoRusso, argued before Atlanta’s civil service board on Thursday that Rolfe wasn’t given a fair amount of time to defend himself against his firing, which happened just a day after the June 12, 2020, shooting that resulted in the death of the 27-year-old Black man.
Brooks was shot by officers after they responded to calls about a man asleep in a car at a Wendy’s drive-through. The young father of four had initially cooperated, but when officers tried to arrest him, a scuffle ensued. Widely circulated video showed Brooks pointing a Taser at officers.
Security camera video showed that Rolfe shot Brooks as Brooks tried to run away. Rolfe, who is White, exercised his Fifth Amendment rights when asked by Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, a lawyer representing the city of Atlanta, whether he had shot Brooks.
Brooks’s death was protested across Atlanta, which had seen demonstrations for justice weeks earlier after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police.
On Thursday, Assistant Atlanta Police Chief Todd Coyt told the civil service board that he believed Rolfe and the other officer, Devin Brosnan, had acted properly.
“The officers were trying to show compassion and they were not overly aggressive,” Coyt said. “They tried to do everything they could to calm the situation down.”
Former Atlanta police chief Erika Shields authorized Rolfe’s dismissal before stepping down shortly after Brooks’s death. Shields now leads the Louisville Police Department, which is still struggling to gain public trust after the death of Taylor.
On the form stating that Rolfe had violated rules, two boxes were checked about the urgency of the action: one that said “yes” it was an emergency and another that said “no” it wasn’t. If the action was not an actual emergency, Rolfe was entitled to receive 10 days to respond, LoRusso said in his questioning of Coyt.
But the discrepancy on the form was simply an error that occurred in a very rushed situation, according to Sgt. William Dean, an internal affairs investigator.
Dean said it is possible for the Atlanta Police Department and the Office of Professional Standards to allow immediate dismissal without the standard 10 days notice of charges to an officer. Rolfe’s return to duty immediately after the Brooks incident would be a difficult and potentially threatening situation for his fellow officers, according to Dean.
“We would have to protect him, and then we would have to deal with the citizens who were mad that he’s out patrolling,” he said, adding that giving Rolfe his job back now would be likely to result in a suspension spent at home. “We have people with felonies getting paid. So I don’t know what they would do with Officer Rolfe.”
Rolfe didn’t make it to his employee response hearing because he was outside city limits and faced an increased risk of encountering violence if he had traveled to headquarters, he said in his first public statements since Brooks’s death.
Furthermore, he said, he had received a call about his impending termination at 3:45 p.m., just over an hour before Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced his termination.
Dean told LoRusso that he thought the time constraints on Rolfe’s ability to respond came about because of the mayor’s news conference.
LoRusso told the board in his closing statements that Rolfe had not been afforded due process, did not authorize a union official to represent him at the employee response hearing and did not violate any rules in Brooks’s shooting, on the basis of the testimony of Coyt and Dean. LoRusso argued to the board that Rolfe should be reinstated with back pay.
“If there are limitations on his working with the city of Atlanta. We heard that can be accomplished within the guidelines of the city of Atlanta pending the outcome of the criminal investigation,” LoRusso said.
Calls to LoRusso on Saturday were not immediately returned.
The board did not specify when it will answer Rolfe’s request to be reinstated.
Lawrence-Hardy, representing the city, said the board has “the opportunity to be on the right side of history, where police officers are held accountable for their actions.”