Attorney For Rayshard Brooks' Family Says Officer 'Wasn't Fearing For His Life'

Jun 18, 2020

On Wednesday, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard held up an image of Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe kicking Rayshard Brooks while he lay on the ground after the officer fatally shot him. It was a detail Brooks' family didn't know until officers were charged yesterday afternoon, according to L. Chris Stewart, an attorney for the family.

"His wife had to get up and leave the courtroom because I didn't even know that. She didn't know that — that he was kicked by officer Rolfe," said Stewart in an interview Thursday with NPR's Morning Edition. "But it shows [the officer's] mental state. He wasn't fearing for his life. He was enraged because of that tussle. And he said, 'I got him' and then kicked a man that was dying."

Tomika Miller, Brooks' widow, said at a press briefing Wednesday that she was "very hurt" when she discovered what the officers did after they approached Brooks asleep in his car at a Wendy's drive-through last Friday night. Video of the incident showed Brooks and two officers speaking calmly for about a half-hour before he was asked to take a field sobriety test, which he failed. When officers attempted to arrest Brooks, he fled after a tussle with the officers, taking a stun gun from one of them and running away. That's when Rolfe fatally shot Brooks.

Miller said she was "grateful" for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard's work.

On Wednesday, Howard charged Rolfe and Devin Brosnan, a second officer at the scene, for Brooks' death. Rolfe faces 11 charges, including felony murder and multiple assault charges, while Brosnan faces three charges, including aggravated assault. Rolfe has been fired from the Atlanta Police Department and Brosnan is currently on administrative desk duty.

"All too often African Americans are denied justice in these situations, even though the world sees that justice should have been given," Stewart said. "Let the criminal justice system play out. And for once, a victim is getting the first steps of justice."

Brooks' killing comes as protests continue across the nation in response to systemic racism and the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Ga.

"We just have to have faith and keep going. That's the only thing you can do in a system that isn't created to protect the victim in these situations," Stewart said. "Every situation isn't going to be a George Floyd where we capture torture on tape. But even then, there are people saying that George Floyd caused his own death. So you just can't win. You just have to keep fighting, have faith and believe in God."

Stewart, who also represents the families of Floyd and Arbery, said representing multiple families who have seen their loved ones killed by police feels like a never-ending cycle.

"It's so hard to try and get a victim justice because of the way policing is right now," Stewart said. "So sadly, we're just in the same cycle again and again. Hopefully these changes that everybody is proposing will help both the community and the good officers out there."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of the attorneys for Rayshard Brooks' family is Chris Stewart, and he is on the line. Welcome to the program, sir.

CHRIS STEWART: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: Were these the proper charges to file?

STEWART: Yes. You know, in all these situations, we'd let the district attorneys or solicitors or whatever their title may be in whichever state we're fighting one of these cases do their job. These are the findings that they came to from the evidence in the video, and you just have to support it. A lot of times, we're disappointed by the response, and we have to accept that. And, you know, people aren't upset when an officer isn't charged, but when they are, we have to deal with this.

INSKEEP: You described the charges as an attempt to redefine justice. What did you mean by that?

STEWART: It's just balance. You know, all too often, African Americans are denied justice in these situations, even though the world sees that justice should have been given. Let the criminal justice system play out, and for once, a victim is getting the first steps of justice. Just let it play out, and at the end of the day, the jury will decide.

INSKEEP: I want to ask a hard question here. Some Atlanta police, as you probably know, are protesting these charges. And there are plenty of people who've been following this case, who have watched the video, even, and have said, well, he resisted arrest. Rayshard Brooks ran. Now we know more details of what happened and in what sequence. Do you feel that any of the details revealed yesterday give some idea of why Mr. Brooks would resist arrest and run?

STEWART: Now, I know a lot of great officers around the country, and I've talked to a lot of them, and they're still on the job. They're still protecting the community. As they've told me, the morale is down, but their job comes before any specific case. So all the great officers I know are still out there protecting the community. You know, officers' first duty is to protect the community and do their job. They didn't walk off the job when my other client George Floyd was killed by that police officer, so I don't believe that they'll be walking off now.

INSKEEP: I understand what you're saying, but my question is do you feel you understand a little better what was going through Mr. Brooks' mind?

STEWART: No. We'll never know. And you never know in these situations because the person ends up dead. What we do know from talking to his wife is they had been watching the George Floyd video all the time, like all of the country has been. So getting put in handcuffs doesn't mean you're going to safely get put in the back of a police car. So he may have reacted from that. But sadly, we'll never know because he was shot.

INSKEEP: And let me ask about what was in the officer's mind. What did you think about when it was revealed by prosecutors that after the shooting the officer kicked Mr. Brooks, who was on the ground?

STEWART: Yes, and his wife had to get up and leave the courtroom because I didn't even know that. She didn't know that - that he was kicked by Officer Rolfe. But it shows his mental state. He wasn't fearing for his life. He was enraged because of that tussle. And he said I got him and then kicked a man that was dying.

INSKEEP: Said I got him - you mean the officer said I got him as this happened.

STEWART: Yes. Yeah.

INSKEEP: I want to hear Mr. Brooks' voice. He had been in prison, we should mention. He was interviewed months ago by Reconnect, which is an advocacy group for individuals and families affected by incarceration, and he talked of returning to his family after prison. Let's listen to some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

RAYSHARD BROOKS: So we have to go back and try to fix things with our kids and, you know, try and gain that trust back, you know, with being away. My oldest daughter - Dad - you know, she's - hey, I love you so much, but where have you been, you know? And I have to, you know, further (ph) up the energy to let her know everything that I have going on within me.

INSKEEP: That's the voice of Rayshard Brooks from a few months ago. How is his family doing?

STEWART: That interview was heartbreaking because if you watch the whole thing, people don't understand that Rayshard became a spokesman for rehabilitation after you've been to jail. He did that video voluntarily to tell other people that don't give up on trying to find a job. Don't give up on trying to reconnect with your family. You can get back into society and be a good person. So it showed who he truly was. You know, for a man to volunteer to inspire other people to try and find jobs and get back into society, it shows who he is. And the family's heartbroken.

INSKEEP: We should mention you are representing more than one - people involved in more than one case of people killed by police. Do you see any common thread in these cases and any common thread in the public response to them?

STEWART: Going all the way back to Walter Scott, which I was the lawyer on in South Carolina in Charleston, where he was running and was shot in the back on video almost six years ago, all the way up until now, no, I don't really see a difference because it's so hard to try and get a victim justice because of the way that policing is right now. So sadly, you know, we're just in the same cycle again and again, and hopefully these changes that everybody is proposing will help both the community and the good officers out there.

INSKEEP: Well, that raises an interesting point. We've all seen what we've seen on video, but that's been true with other cases, and very often, when it comes to trial, the police officer is acquitted. And we can describe whether that's fair or unfair, but the law is very heavily weighted in favor of the police officer. What do you think about your chances in this particular case involving the murder of Mr. Brooks?

STEWART: As a friend of mine who's a police officer actually said, until the laws change, this stuff is going to keep happening. We just have to have faith and keep going. That's the only thing you can do in a system that isn't created to protect the victim in these situations. Every situation isn't going to be a George Floyd where we catch torture on tape, but even then, there are still people saying George Floyd, you know, caused his own death. So you just can't win. You just have to keep fighting, have faith and believe in God.

INSKEEP: Mr. Stewart, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

STEWART: Thanks for having me. Anytime.

INSKEEP: Chris Stewart is an attorney for the family of Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by an Atlanta policeman last weekend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.