ATLANTA — Attorneys alleging excessive force involving Atlanta police officers in two high-profile cases, including the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks, want a special prosecutor appointed after the local district attorney argued her office shouldn’t be involved in either case.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis last month wrote a letter asking Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to reassign the prosecution of the Brooks case, as well as one in which two Black college students were stunned with Tasers and pulled from a car by Atlanta officers. Carr refused, saying the responsibility for the cases rests with Willis’ office.
Willis wrote again last week asking him to reconsider, but Carr again turned her down, saying his earlier decision stands.
Brooks’ family and the two college students applauded when Willis’ predecessor, Paul Howard, swiftly brought charges in the two cases. But they were disappointed by Willis’ attempt to recuse herself and said Tuesday that they just want the cases to move forward.
Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe faces charges, including murder, in Brooks’ June 12 death. The 27-year-old Black man was fatally shot after struggling with officers and fleeing when they told him he’d had too much to drink to be driving and tried to arrest him. The other officer, Devin Brosnan, was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath. Lawyers for both officers have said their clients acted appropriately, and they are free on bond.
In the other case, two students at historically Black colleges in Atlanta, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, were confronted by police as they were stuck in downtown traffic on May 30 during protest sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Police body camera footage shows officers shouting at the couple, firing Tasers at them and dragging them from the car. Six officers face charges.
Howard announced the charges against the officers involved within days of each incident.
But in a Jan. 25 letter to Carr, Willis raised questions about her predecessor’s actions. She argued he may have violated a state bar rule by using video evidence in television advertisements for his reelection campaign and noted that an investigation was underway into whether Howard improperly issued grand jury subpoenas in the Rolfe case.
Carr responded on Feb. 9 that the concerns Willis raised had to do with Howard himself and not her or her office. Therefore, he wrote, her office was not disqualified and remained responsible for the cases.
Willis wrote back on Feb. 11, saying she was “disappointed and concerned” by Carr’s decision. During an orientation for newly elected district attorneys late last year, someone from Carr’s office “advised that a district attorney’s decision to recuse would be final and respected,” she wrote, adding that she doesn’t believe Carr has the lawful authority to reject her recusal.
She urged him to reconsider his “unorthodox decision” to reject her request.
Chief Deputy Attorney General W. Wright Banks Jr. responded by letter Feb. 12, saying Carr’s earlier decision “remains in place.”
Just after meeting with Willis on Tuesday, lawyers representing Brooks’ family and the two college students held a news conference outside the Fulton County courthouse and called for a special prosecutor to be appointed.
Attorney Justin Miller, who represents Brooks’ family and Pilgrim, said that the families want the cases to move forward so that they can have some kind of closure.
“We’re just asking that the attorney general take a really hard look at this, speak to DA Willis and make sure that something happens for these families,” Miller said. “Because right now, it seems like this is a football, a political football.”