The case of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man who was shot in the back while running away from police in a Wendy’s parking lot, is soon to go to trial. Yet the officer who delivered the fatal blow thinks he should be allowed back on the streets.
Ex-officer Garrett Rolfe and his attorney, Lance LoRusso, argued before Atlanta’s civil service board last Thursday that the former was “dismissed without a proper investigation” nor given a fair amount of time to defend himself against his firing. Rolfe was fired a day after the June 12, 2020 shooting.
Rolfe shot Brooks after responding to calls about a man asleep in a car at Wendy’s drive-through lane. A father of four, Brooks initially complied and cooperated, but when officers tried to arrest him, a scuffle ensued. Widely circulated video showed that Rolfe shot Brooks as the latter tried to run away.
Rolfe exercised his Fifth Amendment rights when later asked by Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, a lawyer representing the city of Atlanta, whether he had shot Brooks. Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she believed Rolfe should be fired immediately for his actions. His death was protested across the country, adding to other demonstrations for justice after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police.
However, LoRusso argued that without time to defend his firing, Rolfe’s due process rights were “grossly violated.” An internal affairs investigator, Sgt. William Dean, said that the June hearing about Rolfe’s employment status was moved up to accommodate a 5 p.m. news conference by the mayor announcing his termination. Rolfe, whose testimony marked his first public comments since Brooks’ death, said he didn’t learn about his “employee response hearing” until 3:45 p.m. He was more than an hour outside the city at the time and also allegedly feared for his safety.
Rolfe also testified he had not authorized police union official Ken Allen to represent him at the hearing.
“Keeping [Rolfe] active would’ve been extremely disruptive,” Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, the city’s attorney, argued when explaining that firing Rolfe was a reasonable decision.
She noted that, the night after Brooks’ death, the Wendy’s restaurant location was burned to the ground. Later that week, Rolfe was charged with felony murder for Brooks’ death by former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. That case is pending as the new district attorney, Fani Willis, has sought to recuse her office, citing concerns that her predecessor mishandled the case.
While Rolfe faces multiple charges, Devin Brosnan, the other officer on the scene, was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath. Lawyers for both officers have said their clients acted appropriately, and they are free on bond.
The board has not said when it will decide the case.