Garrett Rolfe, the white former Atlanta police officer charged with murdering Rayshard Brooks, a Black man, may be put back onto the force.
On Wednesday, the Atlanta Civil Service Board, which evaluates city government firing decisions, held that the police department hadn’t followed proper procedure when it swiftly fired Mr Rolfe after the shooting last June. Mr Rolfe fired upon Mr Brooks as he ran away on foot from a drunk driving arrest.
The killing sparked massive protests and prompted the police chief to step down. Mr Brooks’s family was outraged the officer could find his way back onto the Atlanta police force.
“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,” Justin Miller, an attorney for the family, told CNN on Wednesday.
An attorney for Mr Rolfe, meanwhile, celebrated the decision and said it showed “that due process matters.”
The Atlanta Police Department cautioned that even though the civil service board found the firing process itself wasn’t up to code, Wednesday’s decision was not about the underlying merits of why Mr Rolfe was fired. The department said it may undertake “additional investigative actions,” according to a statement.
Mr Rolfe killed Mr Brooks during an arrest last June, just over two weeks after another white officer, Derek Chauvin, killed another Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis.
Police had been called to an Atlanta-area Wendy’s fast food restaurant to investigate reports of a man sleeping in his car in the drive-through lane.
Mr Brooks spoke calmly with officers and failed a breathalyzer test, before trying to flee being put in handcuffs. In an ensuing scuffle, Mr Brooks grabbed one officer’s Taser stun gun and pointed backwards and fired as he ran away from officers. Surveillance video captured Mr Rolfe shooting Mr Brooks once he’s far away.
The former officer is charged with felony murder, as well as aggravated assault, violation of oath of office, and criminal damage to property.
Even in cases where officers are fired, arbitration processes involving police unions and civil service boards often make it so that even officers fired for misconduct can’t be removed.
As Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey recently put it in an interview with Sahan Journal: “This is huge,” he said. “I mean, I cannot emphasize this enough, and it’s something that is consistently overlooked. But mayors and chiefs around the country are screaming from the rooftops about this, and people need to start listening. It is right to hold police chiefs and mayors accountable. And to hold us accountable, you also need to give us the tools to shift the culture by terminating officers and having those terminations stick.”