Garrett Rolfe, the former Atlanta police officer charged in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks in a Wendy’s parking lot, was wrongly terminated, the Atlanta Civil Service Board has ruled.
“We are very excited that the Civil Board says that due process matters,” Lance LoRusso, attorney for Garrett Rolfe, told CNN in a statement. He added that Rolfe’s reinstatement will likely take some time, but he intended to get his client back to work.
The Atlanta Police Department, in a statement, said: “It is important to note that the CSB did not make a determination as to whether officer Rolfe violated Atlanta Police Department policies. In light of the CSB’s rulings, APD will conduct an assessment to determine if additional investigative actions are needed.”
The APD said the decision merely said the firing process was “not done in accordance with the Atlanta City Code.”
APD said Rolfe “will remain on administrative leave” until the criminal charges against him are resolved.
The mayor’s office echoed the APD’s statement, saying the firing was reversed because it was not in line with city code and that no determination was made on whether Rolfe violated department policy.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, in a statement, said: “Given the volatile state of our city and nation last summer, the decision to terminate this officer, after he fatally shot Mr. Brooks in the back, was the right thing to do.”
Brooks’ death, two weeks after the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody last May, sparked protests across Atlanta, and the city’s police chief stepped down less than a day after the shooting.
“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 added.
Brooks family ‘disappointed and confused’
L. Chris Stewart, an attorney for Brooks’ family, said the decision reflected a “procedural error” that has no bearing on whether the shooting was justified or not.
“We find it mind boggling that our elected officials and the former chief weren’t aware of the proper procedure to fire an officer,” he said. “So now it is questions of, ‘Was that done to temporarily pacify the protesters and the people around the world that were upset?’ ”
Stewart said members of Brooks’ family are “disappointed and confused” by the board’s decision, particularly since the criminal case against the officer has been bogged down in the courts.
“It appears that Rayshard Brooks’ life didn’t really matter and that the world has moved on,” said Stewart, adding that Rolfe has “received more justice” than the Brooks family.
Justin Miller, another attorney for the family, said: “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.”
The Atlanta Civil Service Board, in an order signed Wednesday, cited a number of issues with what it said was the city’s failure to comply with its own code as a reason for overriding the decision to fire Rolfe.
In testimony heard in late April, an Atlanta police veteran testified that the dismissal “seemed rushed and sufficient time was not provided for the Appellant (Rolfe) to submit a response,” according to the board’s decision.
The same veteran officer said that Rolfe was told “not to be inside the City limits for his own safety” because of “heightened community concerns” — essentially preventing him from responding to the city’s actions.
Rolfe’s dismissal may have been hurried in part due “to a press conference that was on the horizon,” the officer assigned to the Internal Affairs Advocacy Unit, Sgt. William Dean, testified.
Return to duty will ‘take a little bit of time’
“The hearing brought out a great deal of information that the public had never heard before,” LoRusso said.
LoRusso said that he and Rolfe will work with human resources as part of the reinstatement process.
“It will take a little bit of time,” LoRusso said of Rolfe returning to work. “I imagine it will be pretty soon though.”
The fired officer faces a felony murder charge in the shooting of Brooks last June.
Rolfe is also charged with five counts of aggravated assault, four counts of violation of oath of office and one count of criminal damage to property.
Rolfe’s attorneys maintained the former cop was legally justified and acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Brooks, 27, who wrestled with police and took the Taser of Officer Devin Brosnan during the scuffle.
Video of the June 12 incident, which the defense has called the most valuable evidence in the case, showed Brooks running away and pointing the Taser behind him as Rolfe fired the fatal shots.
Then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard alleged at the time that Rolfe kicked Brooks after the shooting and Brosnan stood on top of him. An attorney for Rolfe has denied his client kicked Brooks.
Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and he was released on bond.
Rolfe’s bond was set at $500,000 and he was eventually released from the Gwinnett County jail.
Judge Jane C. Barwick said Rolfe was not a danger to the community or a flight risk.
The arrests of the two officers was followed by days in which a large number of Atlanta officers called out sick from work.
The incident began when police responded to a report of a man sleeping in his car in the fast-food restaurant’s drive-thru lane.
After chatting calmly with the officers and failing a Breathalyzer test, Brooks resisted when officers moved to handcuff him for suspected drunken driving.
Video footage showed the three fighting on the ground before Brooks grabbed an officer’s Taser and began to run away. As an officer chased him, Brooks pointed the Taser over his shoulder at Rolfe, who then shoots him multiple times, the surveillance video showed. Brooks died at a hospital.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed a statement saying Rolfe’s firing was reversed because it was not in line with city code. That comment should have been attributed to the mayor’s office.