Cops rehired, charges dropped: How efforts to punish police for Rayshard Brooks’ death failed

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Two white Atlanta police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks during a 2020 encounter will not be charged, giving rise to questions about how police across the nation face consequences in the wake of deadly shootings.

Brooks was killed three weeks after George Floyd's death, reigniting a wave of protests in Atlanta calling for an end to racial inequity and police brutality.

Hours after he was shot and killed, Atlanta's police chief stepped down. One officer was fired and the other was put on administrative leave, and warrants were announced against both.

But more than two years later, both officers are still employed at the Atlanta Police Department. Here’s how efforts to punish the cops failed despite a nationwide push for police accountability.

How did Rayshard Brooks die?

Brooks, 27, was shot by an officer while fleeing during a struggle at a Wendy's drive-thru in June 2020. Brooks, who is Black, had fallen asleep in his car in the drive-thru.

After he failed a sobriety test and two white police officers tried to arrest him, Brooks resisted being handcuffed. He wrestled a Taser from one of the officers and was fleeing, firing it at one of the officers, when he was shot.

The Fulton County Medical Examiner's office ruled Brooks' death as a homicide, according to a press release.

"Mr. Brooks had two gunshot wounds of his back that created organ injuries and blood loss," the release said.

Did the officers involved in Rayshard Brooks’ death face any consequences?

The officer who shot Brooks twice in the back, Garrett Rolfe, was fired a day after the shooting. The other officer present at the shooting, Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty.

Five days after Brooks' killing, then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced warrants against the two officers in a news conference. Rolfe's charges included felony murder, aggravated assault and violation of his oath. Brosnan was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath.

But Brosnan’s dismissal was overturned in May 2021 by the Atlanta Civil Service Board, and the executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia said Tuesday he would file paperwork to dismiss the warrants.

Pete Skandalakis said he believed Rolfe acted appropriately in shooting and killing Brooks.

Both officers are still employed with the Atlanta Police Department on administrative duty, the department confirmed Tuesday.

Why weren’t police charged for Rayshard Brooks’ death?

Skandalakis said Tuesday he doesn't believe race played a role.

"This is a case in which the officers were willing to give Mr. Brooks every benefit of the doubt and, you know, unfortunately, by his actions, this is what happened," Skandalakis said

The charges against police in Brooks' death were once considered a part of a "new era" in policing — one where advocates hoped police would be under increased scrutiny and at a heightened risk of consequences when the public disagreed with their use of force.

But experts told USA TODAY that's only partly true.

Little has changed about the complex, highly localized systems that are designed to make it difficult to charge officers with crimes for violence on the job, said Keith Taylor, a long-time New York City police officer who now teaches criminal justice at John Jay College.

A constant hurdle to successfully charging an officer: U.S. laws consider the subjective feelings of an officer when they choose to use force.

A bystander's video may depict a scene that appears to be excessive force, but when charging decisions are made, the more important thing is the officer's "perceptions of feeling that they or someone else are in serious danger,” Taylor said.

Protections for police can come in a variety of forms: collective bargaining agreements, laws or department policies. And changing them isn't easy and hasn't happened en masse across the country, since George Floyd's death.

How often do police face charges or firing for misconduct?

After former police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison called the sentencing "an important moment for our country."

"The outcome of this case is critically important, but, by itself, it's not enough," he said. "My hope for our country is that this moment gives us pause and allows us to rededicate ourselves to the real societal change that will move us much further along the road to justice."

But Chauvin's conviction is a deviation from the norm of how many police face criminal charges for killing people.

During 2015 and 2016, 80 police officers were arrested for murder or manslaughter, according to data from the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database, which tracks criminal arrests of nonfederal police officers. 66% of those officers were on duty during the shooting, and 78% acted in their official capacity as police, the data show.

But the arrest rate of police officers who shoot and kill is incredibly low -- around 1% and never higher than 2%, Philip Matthew Stinson, the researcher behind the database, told Vox.

Maria "Maki" Haberfeld, a professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, told USA TODAY that police have come under more scrutiny and are being watched more closely since the death of George Floyd and massive nationwide protests calling for an end to police brutality.

Some easy-to-enact changes — like increased use of body cams — have become more common in recent years, Haberfeld said.

But she sees little evidence of more systemic reforms — things like overhauling training to better instruct officers how to keep situations from escalating to violence.

“Officers continue to behave in the same way … whoever thinks this is a new era, it’s more in theory than practice,” Haberfeld said.

Contributing: Grace Hauck and Nicquel Terry Ellis, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Police who killed Rayshard Brooks won't be charged: Here's why