A number of Atlanta police officers did not show up for their Wednesday-night shifts in protest of murder charges brought against a former officer who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks after he resisted arrest.
Hours after Fulton County district attorney Paul L. Howard said officer Garrett Rolfe would be charged with felony murder, Atlanta police union spokesman Vince Champion told NBC News that officers had decided to walk off the job and go silent on radios to protest the decision.
“This is not an organized thing, it’s not a blue flu, it’s not a strike, it’s nothing like that. What it actually is, is officers protesting that they’ve had enough and they don’t want to deal with it any longer,” he said.
In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Champion added that “there are officers saying they are not going to leave the precinct unless to help another officer. Some are walking off and sitting in their personal vehicles.”
The Atlanta Police Department released a statement after Champion’s comments, calling claims that officers were walking off the job “inaccurate.”
“The department is experiencing a higher than usual number of call outs with the incoming shift,” the police explained. “We have enough resources to maintain operations & remain able to respond to incidents.”
But Atlanta police scanner traffic conflicted with the statement. “We are not answering 911 calls right now due to personnel issues,” a police dispatcher said Wednesday.
In announcing the charges against Rolfe on Wednesday, Howard said that the Atlanta Police Department’s initial account of events — that Rolfe shot Brooks because he appeared ready to fire a taser that had been wrestled from one of the officers — was inaccurate.
“We concluded that Mr. Brooks was running away at the time that the shot was fired,” the district attorney said. Howard also told reporters that the taser had already been discharged twice, rendering it unusable, and said the officers would have known that.
Howard added that Rolfe’s former partner Devin Brosnan, who was also at the scene where Brooks was shot, would testify against his former partner. Howard said that after Brooks was shot in the back by Rolfe while fleeing arrest, Rolfe kicked him and Brosnan stood on his shoulders.
“There is an Atlanta policy that requires that the officers have to provide timely medical attention to Mr. Brooks, to anyone who is injured,” Howard said. “But after Mr. Brooks was shot, for a period of two minutes and 12 seconds, there was no medical attention applies to Mr. Brooks.”
But Brosnan’s attorney Don Samuel denied Howard’s account of events, saying his client had not agreed to be the state’s witness and did nothing wrong.
“The decision to initiate charges by the Fulton County DA’s office is irrational, unethical and obviously based on factors which should have nothing to do with the proper administration of justice,” Samuel said in a statement.
Howard, who said his office was able to bring charges after reviewing eight videos of the incident, is locked in a reelection battle and faces multiple civil sexual-harassment lawsuits and is being criminally investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for funneling nonprofit funds to boost his salary.
Following the announcement of charges, the GBI — which is conducting a separate investigation of the shooting — said it was “not aware of today’s press conference before it was conducted” and was “not consulted on the charges filed by the District Attorney.”
In an interview on CNN Wednesday night, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms warned that police morale “is down ten-fold.”
“This has been a very tough few weeks in Atlanta and with the tragedy of Mr. Brooks, and then on top of that the excessive force charges that were brought against the officers involved with the college students,” Bottoms explained. “There’s a lot happening in our city, and the police officers are receiving the brunt of it quite frankly.”