Officer Charged With Murder in Rayshard Brooks Killing


A former Atlanta police officer was charged on Wednesday with murder and aggravated assault in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks outside a fast-food restaurant, another violent encounter between a black man and white officers captured on video that has inflamed national tensions over race and policing.

The shooting took place on Friday night after the police were called to a Wendy’s restaurant where Mr. Brooks, 27, had fallen asleep in his car in the drive-through. Paul L. Howard Jr., the Fulton County district attorney, said at a news conference on Wednesday that “Mr. Brooks never presented himself as a threat.”

The officer who killed Mr. Brooks, Garrett Rolfe, faces 11 charges, with prosecutors saying that he shot Mr. Brooks twice in the back and then kicked him as he was lying on the ground. Prosecutors said Mr. Rolfe also declared, “I got him,” after firing the shots.

If convicted of the murder charge, he could face life in prison or the death penalty.

Another officer involved in the confrontation, Devin Brosnan, was charged with three counts, Mr. Howard said, including aggravated assault and violations of oath for stepping on Mr. Brooks’s shoulder while he was lying on the ground and also failing to render aid.

Mr. Howard said Officer Brosnan, who was placed on administrative leave by the Police Department after the shooting, is cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation.

L. Chris Stewart, a lawyer who is representing the Brooks family, praised Officer Brosnan for his cooperation, saying he provided new details on the events that led to Mr. Brooks’s death on Friday night.

“Even in dark times like this, you have to try and see the light, and the positivity of this situation is the courageousness of Officer Brosnan to step forward and say what happened was wrong,” Mr. Stewart said. “It is officers like that who change policing.”

The law office representing Officer Brosnan issued a statement Wednesday saying that although he was cooperating with the prosecutors, he had not agreed to testify against Mr. Rolfe or to plead guilty to any charges.

“This was not a rush to judgment. This was a rush to misjudgment,” the firm, Garland, Samuel & Loeb, said in its statement.

Within 24 hours of the shooting, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta said on Saturday that she did not believe it was justified, and Mr. Rolfe had been fired. The city’s police chief, Erika Shields, also resigned. But as protesters swarmed the streets with renewed intensity, including torching the Wendy’s, the demands to also bring criminal charges against the officers swelled.

An unusually high number of Atlanta police officers called out and did not show up to work their shifts on Wednesday evening, a department spokesman said, hours after a recently fired officer was charged with murder and aggravated assault in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks.

But the spokesman, Sgt. John Chafee, denied rumors circulating on social media and among protesters in the city that officers had walked off the job after the charges were announced.

Sergeant Chafee did not immediately confirm how many officers had called out Wednesday. But he said the department had enough officers on the job to maintain operations and respond to calls throughout the city, despite the absences.

Officials from the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the union representing Atlanta Police Department officers, denounced the charges filed Wednesday against Garrett Rolfe, who shot Mr. Brooks at a Wendy’s parking lot in Atlanta on Friday, and against Officer Devin Brosnan. The union said the charges were premature and politically motivated.

Mr. Rolfe, who was fired the day after the shooting, faces 11 criminal charges in the case, including murder. Officer Brosnan was charged with three counts, including aggravated assault; he has been placed on administrative duty.

Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, President Trump defended Garrett Rolfe, the former Atlanta police officer who has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks.

“You can’t resist a police officer, and if you have a disagreement, you have to take it up after the fact,” Mr. Trump told the Fox host Sean Hannity. “It was out of control — the whole situation was out of control,” the president added.

Mr. Trump said that police officers in America are under siege and that Mr. Rolfe’s fate is now in the hands of the courts.

“It’s up to justice right now,” he said. “It’s going to be up to justice. I hope he gets a fair shake. Because police have not been treated fairly in our country. But again, you can’t resist a police officer like that.”

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Trump said in an interview with the Sinclair Broadcast Group that the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has not played since 2016 after kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality, should get a chance at another job in the N.F.L.

“I would love to see him get another shot, but obviously he has to be able to play well,” Mr. Trump said.

The president has repeatedly criticized Mr. Kaepernick and other players for kneeling, urging N.F.L owners in 2017 to fire any players who protested during the national anthem.

A Seattle-area labor coalition voted on Wednesday night to oust the city’s police union from its ranks, as pressure continued to build around the country to reform or defund police departments and stop the misconduct of some officers.

The coalition, the King County Labor Council, had warned the union, the Seattle Police Officers Guild, in recent weeks that it could face expulsion if it did not address systemic racism in its ranks. The police guild had responded with a vow to discuss the issue, but members of the council voted to move forward with removal.

Police unions have become the focus of ire in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. Police labor leaders have long led efforts to defend their members and resist proposed reforms.

Amid the anti-racism demonstrations that have rolled across the nation for weeks, Seattle activists have kept up pressure on city officials and the Police Department, with protesters establishing a zone over several city blocks as a home base for gatherings. On Wednesday night, some of those protesters once again shut down Interstate 5.

Five years to the day after the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., one of the nation’s oldest black churches, the city, like much of the United States, is wrestling anew with its legacy of slavery and racial discrimination.

The shooting at Mother Emanuel, as the church is known, left nine dead, shocked the country and ignited a reckoning over racism and racist violence. The gunman was a white supremacist who had posed with the Confederate battle flag, and the shooting led to the removal of the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State House and a broader effort to remove Confederate symbols throughout the South and elsewhere.

Now, national protests against police brutality, incited by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, have spurred renewed scrutiny of the historical figures whose statues adorn public spaces and a movement to purge those who espoused racist views or participated in slavery or the violent colonization of North America.

In Charleston, the focus has turned to a statue of John C. Calhoun, a South Carolinian who served as vice president from 1825 to 1832 and was a fierce defender of slavery. Mayor John J. Tecklenburg said in a news conference on Wednesday, flanked by members of the City Council, that he was bringing a resolution to the council that would remove the statute from Marion Square in the heart of Charleston.

The resolutions calls for it to be relocated to a museum or educational facility where it could be displayed in a less prominent way with added context. Mr. Tecklenburg, standing at the base of the statue, said the intention was “not to erase our long and often tragic history but to begin a new and more equitable chapter of that history.”

The announcement came as the city is remembering the nine African-Americans, ages 26 to 87, who were killed at Mother Emanuel on June 17, 2015.

On Wednesday evening, the church will post on its Facebook page and YouTube channel a video tribute to the victims by family members and survivors. On Sunday there will be a march remembering the “Emanuel Nine,” as well as Mr. Floyd and Walter Scott, an unarmed black motorist who was killed by a white police officer in North Charleston two months before the attack at Mother Emanuel. Next Wednesday, the church will host a prayer vigil on its steps.

A 2019 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that while 114 Confederate symbols had been removed since the shooting at Mother Emanuel, 1,747 still stood.

Some of those have come down or been damaged by protesters in recent days, including a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, in Richmond, Va., and a Confederate obelisk in Birmingham, Ala.

On Tuesday night, another Confederate statue in Richmond, known as Richmond Howitzers Monument, which commemorated a Civil War artillery unit, was toppled by protesters from its pedestal, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, becoming one of the latest symbols to fall.

Aunt Jemima, the syrup and pancake mix brand, will change its name and image amid an ongoing backlash, with its parent company Quaker Oats acknowledging that the brand’s origins are “based on a racial stereotype.”

The brand, founded in 1889, is built on images of a black female character that have often been criticized as offensive. Even after going through several redesigns — pearl earrings and a lace collar were added in 1989 — Aunt Jemima was still seen by many as a symbol of slavery.

On Wednesday, Quaker Oats, which is owned by PepsiCo, said that it was taking “a hard look at our portfolio of brands” as it worked “to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives.”

The packaging changes, which were first reported by NBC, will begin to appear toward the end of this year, with the name change coming soon after.

“While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough,” said Kristin Kroepfl, Quaker’s chief marketing officer, in a statement.

Amid nationwide protests over racism and police brutality in recent weeks, many companies rushed to express their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, often running into accusations of hypocrisy. But PepsiCo was already familiar with the fallout — in 2017, it apologized for running an ad featuring Kendall Jenner, a white model, that was criticized for trivializing the movement.

PepsiCo bought Quaker Oats in 2001, inheriting the Aunt Jemima brand. Ramon Laguarta, the chief executive of PepsiCo, wrote in a piece in Fortune this week that “the journey for racial equality has long been part of our company’s DNA.”

Within hours of the announcement that Aunt Jemima was being retired from store shelves, at least two more food companies rushed to respond to complaints about other brands that have been criticized for using racial stereotypes.

Mars Food, the owner of the brand Uncle Ben’s rice, which features an older black man smiling on the box, said on Wednesday afternoon that it would “evolve” the brand as protests over racism and police brutality across the country continued.

Shortly after that announcement, ConAgra Brands, the maker of Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup, released a statement saying the company had begun a “complete brand and package review.” Critics have long associated the shape of the Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle with the mammy, a caricature of black women as subservient to white people.

One protester said a police officer used a baton to pin him by his neck against a squad car. Another said she was tackled by an officer who then drove his knee into her back so hard she could not breathe.

A third — a registered nurse — was tending to a young man with a head wound, but claimed the police would not allow an ambulance to drive through a crowd to fetch him. A fourth described rushing through a line of police with batons to help a sobbing teenage girl, then escaping with her just before an officer tried to grab them.

“It felt,” she said, “like warfare.”

These and other troubling accounts emerged on Tuesday at the first public hearing held by state officials investigating New York Police Department’s handling of protests stemming from the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis last month.

The inquiry is being led by the state attorney general, Letitia James, and comes as city officials and some district attorneys in New York are also examining how the police have dealt with what is now more than three straight weeks of demonstrations.

At the beginning of the hearing, Ms. James said that she and her investigators had already received hundreds of tips about possible police misconduct at the protests and had lined up so many witnesses that testimony would last all day on Tuesday and would continue Wednesday morning.

The hearing marked the first time that individual demonstrators told their stories to the public, and some became emotional, erupting into tears or fits of rage.

In an extraordinary session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday, George Floyd’s brother made an urgent plea for the world body to create an independent commission to study the killing of black people by the police in the United States.

“You watched my brother die,” Philonise Floyd told the council via video. “That could have been me. I am my brother’s keeper. You in the U.N. are your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in America, and you have the power to help us get justice for my brother George Floyd.”

“I am asking you to help me,” he said. “I am asking you to help us, black people in America.”

The meeting of the council in Geneva was called by Burkina Faso, on behalf of 54 African countries. The council’s president, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, said the issue did not just pertain to the United States, but it was the unrest that followed the death of George Floyd in policy custody on May 25 that galvanized a global movement to address systemic racism and abuse of power by the police.

“This is a topic that is not about just one country, it goes well beyond that,” Ms. Tichy-Fisslberger said in a statement before the hearing. “When I said it’s not against the United States, I mean there are complaints about a lot of racism in many countries of this world, of course in Europe, but not only; you find it all over the world.”

Philonise Floyd also made an emotional plea to American lawmakers last week, asking members of the House Judiciary Committee to “stop the pain” and pass reforms that make officers accountable for brutality.

The Boy Scouts of America said this week that it would create a “diversity and inclusion” merit badge and make earning it a requirement for becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest scouting rank. It joined a growing number of organizations that are announcing public support for racial equality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Texas-based organization, which was formed in 1910 and reports more than 2.2 million youth members, has frequently been criticized for a lack of inclusivity in recent years.

In a statement on Monday from its executive committee, the Boy Scouts said the group would make diversity and inclusion training mandatory for its staff, starting July 1, and that it would work with local councils to ensure that property names, events and other insignia do not bear “symbols of oppression.”

Effie Delimarkos, a spokeswoman for the Boy Scouts, said the organization was still working on the details of how a scout would earn the diversity and inclusion merit badge. The development of a new badge typically takes years, but she said the timeline would be expedited in this case.

The organization said in the statement that it would incorporate elements from existing badges that “require scouts to learn about and engage with other groups and cultures to increase understanding and spur positive action.”

The Boy Scouts initially put out a much broader statement on June 3, with no mention of race, and focusing instead on teaching scouts “to become the best versions of themselves.”

Dwayne Fontenette Jr., 29, an Eagle Scout who also has volunteered as a scout leader, helped write a letter last week, signed by more than 500 scouts, calling for the Boy Scouts to take a stronger stance against “anti-black racism.” Mr. Fontenette, who is black, said in an interview that he was moved by the organization’s statement this week.

“It represented for me the first time in my scouting history where I feel like the organization saw me, and valued me completely,” he said.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday morning unveiled their answer to Democrats’ sprawling policing legislation, proposing a narrow set of changes to law enforcement that would place new restrictions on the use of chokeholds, impose penalties for the failure to wear body cameras, and make lynching a federal crime.

The measure was spearheaded by Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate’s only African-American Republican, who has become increasingly focused on matters of race in recent years and has led the effort to bring his party together around a proposal to answer a growing public movement to address systemic racism in policing that has placed Republicans on the defensive.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, announced that the Senate would take up the bill next week, a swift timeline that reflected a sense of the urgency for action.

“The witnessing of the murder of George Floyd, and the experience in my hometown of Breonna Taylor certainly brings to the forefront this issue for all Americans, including Senate Republicans,” Mr. McConnell told reporters. “I want you to know that we’re serious about making a law here.”

But the limited reach of the legislation reflects the challenge facing Republicans. While they have scrambled to show their willingness to move on policing changes for the first time in years, they are unwilling to accept the far-reaching federal measures that civil rights activists say are necessary to confront systemic bias in policing.

Democrats will push their own legislation through the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, advancing an expansive bill that would place an outright ban on chokeholds, change the qualified immunity doctrine that shields police officers from lawsuits, and make it easier to identify, track and prosecute police misconduct.

The debate in the committee that began in the morning reflected the wide gulf between the parties on the issue. While Democrats took turns demanding action to address systemic racism in policing, Republicans charged that Democrats merely wanted to defund police departments, something that their bill does not do.

Representative Mike Johnson, Republican of Louisiana, said he believed the legislation included “provisions that will have a net negative impact on communities that are most affected by crime and on the safety of officers who put their lives on the line to serve them.”

When given the chance to offer their own proposals, House Republicans proposed one that would require the F.B.I. and other federal law enforcement officials to record interviews, saying the measure was needed because of what they considered to be injustices in the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

A Virginia sheriff has apologized to a black pastor who was arrested earlier this month after calling 911 to report that a group of white people were trespassing on his property and taunting him with racial slurs.

The pastor, Leon K. McCray, 61, called the authorities during the confrontation, which began when he saw two people hauling a refrigerator to the rubbish bin at the apartment building he owns in Edinburg, Va., on June 1.

Mr. McCray, who declined to comment when reached by phone, told WUSA-TV that the two people became angry when he asked them to leave the property. They quickly returned, he said, with three friends, who were also white. Mr. McCray said that the five people surrounded him and began using racial slurs, and that one head-butted him while another shoved him from behind.

Mr. McCray told WUSA that he pulled out his gun and “pointed it down to the ground in hopes that they would back off.” Then he called 911. Deputies from the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office arrived and arrested Mr. McCray, who was charged with brandishing a firearm, a misdemeanor.

The Shenandoah County sheriff, Timothy C. Carter, issued a statement late last week in which he said he had spoken with Mr. McCray on June 3, two days after the incident, and apologized. He said the five people who confronted Mr. McCray had been taken into custody on various charges, including hate crimes.

In an interview on Wednesday, Sheriff Carter said he had ordered an internal review into the incident. More broadly, he said his department was taking a look at its own conduct and policies in light of the national unrest over police brutality that followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We’re learning a lot from our involvement in this incident, and we’re trying to learn and be better as we move through this,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Ellen Barry, Mike Baker, Neal E. Boudette, Maria Cramer, Michael Crowley, Catie Edmondson, Nicholas Fandos, Alan Feuer, Tiffany Hsu, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Sarah Mervosh, Rick Rojas, Simon Romero, Edgar Sandoval, Marc Santora, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Ashley Southall, Kate Taylor, Lucy Tompkins, Allyson Waller, Will Wright and Mihir Zaveri.



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