Politics & Policy

Brooks Shooting: The Political Prosecutor Caves In to the Mob

A protester watches as a Wendy’s burns following a rally against the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks, in Atlanta, Ga., June 13, 2020. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)
Capital murder charges conform to the slanderous anti-cop narrative, not the facts in this case.

If you broadcast that you are willing to be bullied, then you invite the mob to rule. When the mob rules, you get brass-knuckles politics, not justice.

You get a hyper-political county prosecutor, under the corruption microscope as he desperately seeks reelection, filing trumped-up, mob-driven charges before the actual investigators have a chance to finish their work.

You get a capital murder charge against a police officer who returned fire after being shot at with a taser by a fleeing suspect.

A taser that the fleeing suspect, a criminal with a violent history, stole from the police while they attempted to arrest him on a well-founded charge.

A taser being the very weapon that the same prosecutor, just days earlier, had deemed a deadly weapon under Georgia State law. But of course, that was then, when the same prosecutor was addressing the use of tasers by police. This is now, when a criminal used a stolen taser on police. In mob-stricken Atlanta, the prosecutor says the latter use of deadly force is no threat at all.

In an outrageous trumping up of a criminal case — to describe this as mere “overcharging” would be woefully insufficient — Fulton County prosecutor Paul Howard Jr. has charged former police officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder in connection with the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.

The killing of Brooks, who was violently resisting arrest and attempting to flee, is still under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). But in the wake of George Floyd’s recent killing by Minneapolis police officers, the Black Lives Matter demagogues refuse to wait for evidence-based conclusions. They will tolerate no storyline other than the slanderous fiction that we are all expected not just to abide but endorse: Institutionally racist cops are hunting down black men.

So prosecutor Howard, did not wait for the GBI to finish its probe. The mob was demanding a scalp, so he gave them a scalp.

Howard got his in-house investigator to sign off on arrest affidavits. They charge Rolfe with felony murder, in addition to several other charges. In Georgia, felony murder is a death-penalty offense. The homicide theory of felony murder is that, while the offender does not specifically intend to cause death, he does intentionally commit a felony from which death results. In this instance, Howard alleges that the underlying felony was aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The allegation is ludicrous. That is why Howard rushed to get it done before any investigative findings could contradict him. He is in a fight for political survival: trailing in his reelection bid while facing sexual-harassment accusations by two women who worked in his office. There are also allegations that he violated campaign-finance laws. The state ethics commission is looking into those.

Under this corruption cloud, he has taken stock of our mob moment. His best shot, he apparently decided, is to run against law enforcement.

That is why he charged Rolfe. He has also filed charges against Officer Devin Brosnan, Rolfe’s partner during the incident. Brosnan is not charged with murder. Howard’s main allegation against him is aggravated assault — in Atlanta, when a suspect forcibly resists arrest, steals an arresting officer’s taser, and the officer sustains a concussion, the new practice is to charge the officer with felony assault.

It is highly unlikely that an objective, professional investigation of Brooks’s shooting would result in any criminal charges. It would not have been opportune, then, for Howard to await the results of the GBI investigation. And while grand juries are often belittled as willing to indict a ham sandwich if that’s what the prosecutor tells them to do, it is highly unlikely, even in the current climate of intimidation, that an Atlanta grand jury would indict a cop for capital murder on the facts of this case. In Atlanta, the police department is nearly 60 percent African American. While the rabble-rousers dominate the coverage, most citizens realize that many of the black lives that matter wear blue uniforms and put those lives on the line to protect the city.

Howard is playing to the rabble-rousers, so he had to act now. And “act” is a good word for it. In announcing the charges, with a straight face, he described Brooks as “jovial,” though Brooks actually assaulted the arresting officers. He claimed Brooks “did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or officers,” when, in reality, Brooks stole a taser from them, shot it at them, and was still pointing it at Rolfe when Rolfe finally fired at him. The prosecutor’s press conference was theater of the absurd.

No one, including the police on the scene that night, wished death on Brooks. In fact, bodycam footage shows Rolfe performing CPR on the wounded Brooks, saying, “Mr. Brooks, keep breathing, keep breathing for me.”

But Brooks is very far from the Black Lives Matter media’s depiction of a devoted husband and friendly father of four who was murdered by racist cops after he had just a tad too much to drink.

Brooks was passed out drunk in the car he had been driving while at a Wendy’s drive-thru. This was a violation of his probation conditions. Yeah, he was on probation. As recounted by Britain’s Daily Mail (it is hard to get such information from American media sources), Brooks had been convicted in 2014 for felonies committed against his family: multiple battery charges, false imprisonment, and cruelty to children. He was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. But, as often happens in the criminal-justice system you’re supposed to see as institutionally racist and just spoiling to let black men rot in cages, the seven-year sentence wasn’t really a seven-year sentence. He served just one year and was released on probation.

As frequently happens with probationers, Brooks repeatedly violated the terms of his release. You’re supposed to look the other way on that, too. We’re supposed to prefer alternatives to prison for violent criminals; then, when the criminals habitually flout the conditions under which they are spared incarceration, we’re supposed to ignore that, too, since … well, we’d otherwise have to admit that criminals belong in prison — and that’s such Cro-Magnon thinking.

Brooks actually was sent back to prison after his first probation violation, but not for the remainder of the seven-year term. Again, the system is geared to minimize, not maximize, the incarceration of convicts. So Brooks was out in just twelve months. He then violated probation yet again, last year. This time, the system deemed the infraction minor (leaving the state without alerting his probation officer), so the violation was simply dismissed as if it never happened.

That was the state of play last Friday night when a Wendy’s employee called the police because Brooks, in a drunken stupor behind the wheel, was stalling the drive-thru line. The police responded, and the video shows they were cordial and professional, administering a test that confirmed Brooks had been driving while impaired (the legal blood-alcohol limit is .08; Brooks was at .108).

Why didn’t the cops just drive him home, critics now ask, or just let him walk home on his own? But Brooks was a probationer from a violent-crime conviction who had already transgressed his release conditions multiple times and was now, quite obviously, again in violation. Placing him under arrest was standard procedure. Had the police let him go and failed to report what happened, and had Brooks then harmed someone, the police would have risked severe discipline — and rightly so.

Critics also say Brooks was reasonably cooperative, but that was true only until he realized that the police were placing him under arrest. At that point, he forcibly resisted. Did the two cops wrestle with him, and did one warn him that he’d be tased if he kept fighting? Yes, that’s what police are authorized to do when someone they are lawfully arresting violently resists.

Brooks was clearly bigger and stronger than either of the two officers. In the physical struggle that he’d instigated, Brooks wrested a taser from Brosnan, freed himself from the scrum, and began to flee. As Rolfe chased him, Brooks fired the taser at Rolfe, from a range of less than three feet. Brooks had turned his body to fire at the pursuing Rolfe while running in the other direction.

The taser shot missed Rolfe, but it knocked him off-stride, veering him into the rear of a red car parked in the lot. By then, Rolfe had his service handgun drawn. He fired three times, striking Brooks twice in the back. The video shows that Brooks still had his body partially turned toward Rolfe, and was still pointing the taser at Rolfe, when Rolfe shot him. Remarkably, Howard dismisses this fact and claims that Brooks posed no real threat because Rolfe, in the moments when he was being tased at by a demonstrably violent felon, should have been counting the rounds and realized that the stolen taser Brooks was still pointing at him was out of charges.

Mind you, this is the guidance Atlanta’s cops are getting from the chief prosecutor.

Could the police have handled this situation better? Well, these situations are always easy to Monday-morning quarterback — especially by armchair analysts who have never voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to protect the community.

Rolfe reportedly has a record of several complaints in his seven-year career; but complaints are easy to make, he’s been cleared on all but one of them (for which he was reprimanded). His lawyer says he has testified for the county attorney against an abusive cop. One of the shots Rolfe fired while in distress missed Brooks but reportedly hit a car — fortunately none of the three people in it were hurt, but the outcome could have been much worse. There are questions about whether the officers handled their tasers properly; whether they kicked Brooks when he was down after the shooting (defense lawyers say the prosecutor is distorting what happened); and whether the police provided aid to Brooks swiftly enough — though Rolfe undeniably administered CPR and tried hard to save him.

Plainly, all of that has to be sorted out. That’s why responsible prosecutors wait until investigators have a chance to answer the pressing questions before filing charges — to say nothing of death-penalty charges. To me, Rolfe’s firing seems rash under the circumstances. The GBI investigation is continuing, however, and it may well turn out, when all the relevant facts come to light, that some measure of discipline would be justifiable. Brosnan, meantime, had been placed on administrative duty before Howard filed charges.

In the end, though, this incident happened, and a simple arrest situation escalated into a deadly shooting, because of Rayshard Brooks. He was not a victim of the system. He was a violent criminal who was out on probation, rather than in prison, because he’d been given multiple breaks after his felony convictions. At the moment the police confronted him, he was yet again violating his probation conditions. His arrest was entirely lawful, but instead of submitting to it, as the law requires, he initiated a forcible confrontation. He ultimately shot at one cop with the taser he’d stolen from another.

I guess Wendy’s must be institutionally racist, too, because the mob torched it. They then demanded their perverse brand of “justice,” and found a hyper-political progressive prosecutor willing to give it to them. If there is actual justice, this will not stand.

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