Atlanta Police Chief Resigns After Officer Shoots and Kills a Black Man


ATLANTA — Less than 24 hours after a white police officer shot and killed an African-American man outside a fast-food restaurant, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta announced on Saturday that the city’s police chief had resigned.

Early on Sunday morning, Sgt. John Chafee, a spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department, said the officer who shot the man had been fired.

The shooting left many in the city once again incensed by the death of another black man at the hands of the police — and nervous about the potential for more destructive flare-ups. By Saturday night, protesters had blocked roads and an interstate near the restaurant, a Wendy’s, and apparently set it on fire, according to news reports, with police firing tear gas and flash grenades to try to disperse the crowd.

The authorities said the man, Rayshard Brooks, 27, had run from the police on Friday night after failing a sobriety test and grabbing a Taser from an officer during a struggle with him. Ms. Bottoms said that security footage appeared to show that Mr. Brooks had fired the Taser toward the officer, who was chasing him before he was killed, but that she did not consider that a justification for the shooting.

“While there may be debate as to whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, I firmly believe that there is a clear distinction between what you can do and what you should do,” Ms. Bottoms said. “I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force.”

Sergeant Chafee identified the officer in the shooting as Garrett Rolfe and said he had joined the department in October 2013. The other officer on the scene, Devin Brosnan, was placed on administrative duty, he added.

Ms. Bottoms’s rapid response to the fatal shooting signaled the heightened scrutiny facing law enforcement as a wave of protest against police violence continues in many cities around the country — a movement that has already prompted a number of changes to local police policies, as well as a broader conversation about the ongoing racism that people of color experience in the justice system and nearly every other facet of American life.

In the past, police shootings have rarely prompted such swift and dramatic responses. It is more common for city leaders to stand with the police and urge patience as prosecutors and the police departments themselves conduct reviews. The moves by Atlanta officials on Saturday may have been taken with an eye to the streets, in the hope of dampening a potentially explosive reaction like those that have engulfed many cities over the last several weeks.

As Mr. Brooks ran away, appearing to hold the Taser, one officer chased after him, holding another stun gun. Then, in one video, several gunshots were heard.

The bureau initially said in a statement that witnesses described Mr. Brooks being shot “in the struggle over the Taser.” But on Saturday afternoon, after obtaining surveillance video from the restaurant and reviewing videos on social media, the bureau revised that account, saying it “was based on the officer’s body cam which was knocked off during the physical struggle, preventing the capture of the entire shooting incident.”

“During the chase, Mr. Brooks turned and pointed the Taser at the officer,” the bureau said, adding that “the officer fired his weapon, striking Brooks.”

Mr. Brooks was taken to a hospital, where he died after surgery, the authorities said. One officer was treated at a hospital for an injury and was later released.

L. Chris Stewart, a lawyer who was hired by the Brooks family, said repeatedly at a news conference Saturday night that a Taser was not considered a deadly weapon, and that there was no justification for the police to shoot Mr. Brooks just because he had one in his hands.

He also said that the police could have instead cornered Mr. Brooks and arrested him, instead of chasing him and shooting him. “His life was not in immediate harm when he fired that shot,” Mr. Stewart said of the officer.

He said the officers put on plastic gloves and picked up shell casings before rendering first aid to Mr. Brooks, and also did not check his pulse for more than two minutes after he was shot.

Mr. Brooks’s half-sister, Kiara Owens, 26, said in a phone interview that Mr. Brooks had been working a construction job and had five daughters, including two who were stepchildren, and a sixth daughter on the way. “All he wanted to do is work and come home to his kids,” she said. “The kids have been asking like, ‘Is Daddy coming home?’ And I can’t tell the kids nothing. I can’t tell them.”

The killing was particularly painful for a city sometimes called America’s Black Mecca for its cultural and economic importance to the lives of African-Americans, and its stature as one of the great spiritual and organizing centers of the civil rights movement.

Atlanta remains a majority-black city with significant African-American political representation and a large number of black police officers. That has created a complex interplay between protesters and city authorities as recent protests have unfolded.

Mayor Bottoms, who is African-American, earned widespread praise for her response to the unrest early on, speaking passionately about her role as a black mother and her fears for her black son. Her eloquence elevated her national stature, and put her on a list of potential vice-presidential picks for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

Ms. Shields had also earned praise for her response to the street protests after Mr. Floyd’s death. Early on, she went out into the streets to speak — and listen — to demonstrators.

But the city’s response has also been marked by controversy and embarrassment, including an incident in which a young black man and black woman were tased and violently dragged from their cars by Atlanta police officers as protests raged downtown. The episode, on May 30, was captured by television reporters and transmitted live as it unfolded.

“Our overall message is that we are done dying,” the reverend said. “We are done waking up at one or two in the morning to another murder or yet another case of police brutality.”

Richard Fausset reported from Atlanta, Johnny Diaz from Miami and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from Minneapolis. Jack Begg contributed research.



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