Special prosecutors have decided to not prosecute two white Atlanta police officers who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks in 2020. Justin Miller, a lawyer for Brooks’s family, said the family will continue its fight for justice in civil court, where they have a lawsuit pending.
Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said in a press conference Tuesday that Officer Garrett Rolfe, who shot Brooks, and Officer Devin Brosnan acted reasonably after struggling with Brooks, who had taken control of one of their stun guns.
“Brosnan and Rolfe committed no crimes,” Skandalakis said. “Both acted as reasonable officers would under the facts and circumstances of the events of that night. Both acted in accordance with well-established law and were justified in the use of force regarding the situation.”
Justin Miller, a lawyer for Brooks’s family, says the family will continue its fight for justice in civil court, where they have a lawsuit pending. Miller spoke with GPB’s Peter Biello.
Peter Biello: In the press conference Tuesday, prosecutors went frame by frame through the available video of the night Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed. And you argue that this should have been presented to a grand jury of Fulton County citizens to decide whether or not the charges were merited. Why would a grand jury have made the difference, in your view?
Justin Miller: The grand jury process is a special process. This is why our legal system is good, because you have a jury of your peers who get to decide your guilt or your innocence. And so when you take it out of the hands of a jury, you’re really subverting the American legal process. And so if you think about what happened, you have a special prosecutor who brought in another prosecutor, who then brought in an expert and other people who he relied on and who he spoke to. And I think there were six people in total to make this determination that they weren’t going to charge the officers. Well, we don’t know who these people are. We didn’t vet these people. Only one person was vetted and that person essentially became the jury. Now, we don’t know that person’s biases. We don’t know what he was told. We don’t know if he was given marching orders by anyone. All we know is that he decided that there should be no prosecution. And I just don’t think that’s fair. And that’s not what the American system is.
Peter Biello: And did you or someone else representing the family of Rayshard Brooks raise these objections about the way the process was being handled before Tuesday’s announcement?
Justin Miller: No, we didn’t. We really didn’t have an opportunity to. I mean, it doesn’t matter if we raised the objection or not. The district attorney has the right to do whatever she saw fit in that particular instance, and this is what she wanted to do.
Peter Biello: This shooting came at a fraught moment in our history. The murder of George Floyd had occurred just a few weeks earlier. And I want to ask you to respond to something that was said yesterday in the press conference. A reporter asked prosecutor Pete Skandalakis about the conclusion some may draw from the clearing of these officers that Black lives don’t matter. AndPete Skandalakis said Black lives do matter.
Pete Skandalakis: “I do understand there has to be an outreach between law enforcement and the African-American community. And I encourage that outreach to continue. But this isn’t one of those cases. This is a case in which the officers were willing to give Mr. Brooks every benefit of the doubt and, you know, unfortunately, by his actions, this is what happened.”
Peter Biello: That’s prosecutor Pete Skandalakis speaking Tuesday at a press conference. Justin Miller, what do you make of his comments?
Justin Miller: I think that’s the reason why you need a representative jury of Fulton County and not Pete Skandalakis making that determination. I also remember someone talking about middle-aged white men making this determination. Danny Porter, who was working with Pete Skandalakis,said something about he’s a middle-aged white man. He made this joke. But that is a true issue. That is a real problem that you face in these kind of cases. This is why we have juries. I think there are a lot of racial ramifications of this case. And I don’t mean that it was a racist cop or racist incident. What I mean is there are racial implications. One of them being if you’re a police officer and you don’t know people like Mr. Brooks or people who live on Metropolitan Avenue or you’ve never been in a fight, you know, these kind of things matter when you’re policing, asserting in a certain area.
Peter Biello: How do you think having more familiarity with the neighborhood would have changed things?
Justin Miller: If you are used to being around a drunk guy in a Wendy’s parking lot, you might have more empathy for what he’s going through. Rayshard Brooks talked to them for a very long time. He told them about what he was going through. If it were me, I would have listened to his story and understood. I may know people who have been going through the same things and I may have figured out a different way that would not have escalated the situation. And if you have never talked to people who have been in these situations, and I don’t know if they never have, but (we’re speaking generally) if you’ve never talked to people in these situations, if you are scared or if you have not been in the type of fight where you would lose a fight, then you know you’re going to pull out your gun. You’re going to react instead of think in that situation. And I do agree with Mr. Skandalakis and Mr. Porter. In that situation, you’re moving really fast. But if you’re moving too fast where you can’t think about what’s going on, then you shouldn’t shoot.
Peter Biello: So given the conclusion that these officers were justified in in the shooting, how possible do you think it is to get justice for your clients going forward?
Justin Miller: There’s still a chance the Department of Justice can pick up this case and make it a federal case like they did in the Breonna Taylor case. We still have the civil suit going. You know, that could get his family some kind of help financially at the end of all this. But I don’t really think there is justice for someone who was killed and taken away from their family.
Peter Biello: And if you prevail in civil trial, how might it change the way police interact with the community? Do you have hopes that it will change the way police interact with the community?
Justin Miller: No, I don’t think it will change the way police interact with the community because the police are not the ones who have to pay any kind of civil lawsuit verdict. So any settlement or verdict is not going to be paid by any individual police officer. It will be paid by an insurance, or in this case, by the city itself. So I don’t think it will change. What would change is, if these things happen, and then, at the academy, they teach them differently and they tell them “in these situations, this is how you should handle it.”
This story comes to Reporter/Intown through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.