The former Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks can be free on bond while his case is pending, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick set a bond of US$500,000 for Garrett Rolfe, who faces charges including felony murder in the killing of Mr. Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man. The shooting by the white officer happened against the backdrop of demonstrations nationwide over police brutality and systemic racism after George Floyd died under a Minneapolis officer’s knee.
Appearing via teleconference because of the coronavirus, lawyers for Mr. Rolfe argued that he is a native Georgian with strong ties to the community who is not at risk of fleeing or failing to show up for court and is not a danger to the community. A prosecutor argued that Mr. Rolfe, 27, had committed an unjustified fatal shooting and was a flight risk and might intimidate witnesses.
Mr. Brooks’s wife, Tomika Miller, sobbed throughout an emotional plea to the judge, asking her not to grant bond for Mr. Rolfe.
“I say no to it,” she said. “I say no because, mentally, I’m not able to handle it.”
Justice Barwick thanked Ms. Miller, adding that her appearance required a lot of bravery, but said she found that Mr. Rolfe met the conditions required for bond. The judge said Mr. Rolfe “is not a flight risk and I do not believe he is a danger to the community.”
The conditions of his bond include wearing an ankle monitor, complying with a curfew, surrendering his passport, not possessing any guns and having no contact with victims, witnesses or Atlanta police officers.
Police body cameras showed Mr. Rolfe and another officer having a calm and respectful conversation with Mr. Brooks for more than 40 minutes after complaints that Mr. Brooks had fallen asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru lane on June 12.
But when officers told him he’d had too much to drink to be driving and tried to handcuff him, Mr. Brooks resisted. A struggle was caught on dash camera video. Mr. Brooks grabbed one of their Tasers and fled, firing the Taser at Mr. Rolfe as he ran away.
An autopsy found Mr. Brooks was shot twice in the back.
During Tuesday’s hearing, one of Mr. Rolfe’s lawyers, Noah Pines, denied the district attorney’s accusations that Mr. Rolfe shouted “I got him!” and kicked Mr. Brooks after shooting him. Mr. Pines called on Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard to release video of the alleged kick. Mr. Howard had made the allegations when he announced the charges five days after Mr. Brooks’s death.
Executive Assistant District Attorney Clint Rucker said video footage shows Mr. Rolfe’s kick and a witness confirmed that it happened.
Mr. Rolfe was fired shortly after the shooting and the other officer, Devin Brosnan, was placed on desk duty. The police chief stepped down less than 24 hours after the shooting.
Mr. Rolfe now faces 11 charges in all. Felony murder is punishable by a minimum sentence of life in prison, with or without the possibility of parole. Mr. Brosnan, 26, is charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath and is free on bond.
Lawyers for both men have said their actions were justified.
Mr. Rolfe’s lawyers had asked the judge for a US$50,000 signature bond, which would have meant he wouldn’t have had to pay anything unless he failed to show up for court.
Mr. Rolfe’s lawyers gave the judge nearly 30 letters attesting to his good character. They also said he was a police officer doing his job, not someone who went out with the intention of committing a violent crime.
“If Garrett Rolfe isn’t entitled to a bond under the statute, then nobody is, nobody for a murder case,” Mr. Pines said.
Mr. Rucker had asked the judge to deny bond, but when she asked what bond would be reasonable if she chose to grant one, he said US$1-million with a string of conditions.
Mr. Rucker argued that Mr. Brooks was running away and posed no threat when he was shot in the back.
In a statement, lawyers for Brooks’s family said they were “disappointed” by the judge’s ruling, but said it was “just one step in the long quest for justice for Rayshard.”
“Rather than looking at this process as a series of `wins’ or `losses,' it’s imperative that we continue to push for systemic change within our criminal justice system,” lawyers L. Chris Stewart and Justin Miller said. “From hate crime laws being passed to increasing oversight of members of law enforcement, our job is to ensure that positive change comes from this tragic situation.”
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