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Officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks is reinstated

Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe. (Atlanta Police Department/Reuters)
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The police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, in Atlanta last summer has been reinstated.

The Atlanta Civil Service Board reinstated Garrett Rolfe to the Atlanta Police Department on Wednesday because he “was not afforded his right to due process,” according to the five-page finding of fact and order.

Rolfe’s reinstatement comes nearly two weeks after a hearing before the board in which his attorney argued that he was not given a fair amount of time to defend himself against the firing, had not authorized a union official to represent him at the employee response hearing and did not violate any rules in Brooks’s shooting.

Rolfe shot Brooks on June 12 after he and his partner responded to calls about a man sleeping in a car at a Wendy’s drive-through. The father of four was cooperative at first, but a scuffle happened when officers tried to arrest him, and widely shared video showed Brooks pointing what Rolfe’s attorney described as a Taser at officers.

Brooks was shot by Rolfe as he tried to run away, surveillance video showed, sparking protests across the city. Brooks’s death came just a few weeks after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

Rolfe is facing multiple charges stemming from the incident, including felony murder, aggravated assault and violation of oath.

Lance LoRusso, Rolfe’s attorney, told The Washington Post that his client is eligible to receive back pay and full reinstatement, according to city ordinances.

“We are very pleased at this action and consider it the first step in the total vindication of Officer Garrett Rolfe,” LoRusso said in a statement.

At Rolfe’s hearing before the board — at which he made his first public statements since the shooting — it was revealed that he received a call about his termination just a little more than hour before Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) announced it, instead of the 10 days he is entitled to for offering a response.

He did not make it to his eventual employee-response hearing, where an unauthorized union official represented him, because he was outside city limits and feared the potential for harm if he were to enter the city, he said.

The board’s decision is one of the few actions taken in the Brooks case, which has been stalled in part because of requests from Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis to have the case moved to another prosecutor.

A statement from Bottoms’s office reminded the public that the Civil Service Board’s decision did not determine whether Rolfe violated Atlanta Police Department policies. The police department will now conduct an assessment to determine whether more investigative actions are needed in light of the ruling.

The mayor’s office said Rolfe will remain on administrative leave until the criminal charges are resolved.

Bottoms said in a statement that terminating Rolfe after he shot Brooks was the right thing to do.

“Had immediate action not been taken, I firmly believe that the public-safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse,” she said.

Brooks family attorneys L. Chris Stewart and Justin D. Miller said at a news conference shortly after the vacated termination was announced that they found it “mind-boggling” that elected officials and the former police chief were not aware of the proper procedures for firing an officer.

The legal team said the procedural mistakes had caused further harm to Brooks’s family members, who they said were disappointed and confused about Rolfe’s reinstatement.

“There has been no compensation for the family. The officer is now back on the force. The officer has not been convicted of any crime,” Miller said. “So you have a person who is going to stand trial for murder, who is now back on the force and able to do the same things he was doing before that caused him to get off the force in the first place. It’s ridiculous.”

For people just now paying attention to what’s happening in the case, Stewart said, it sends the message that Brooks’s life appeared to not have mattered and “that the world has moved on.”

LoRusso said Rolfe’s reinstatement provides an opportunity for the officer to explain what happened the day Brooks was shot, noting the scuffle between Brooks and the officers.

“Officer Rolfe was entitled, both as an officer and a citizen, to respond to Rayshard Brooks’s aggravated assault with deadly force,” he said. “Officer Rolfe continues to look forward to the opportunity to prove that his actions were legally justified.”

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