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A Black man killed during an encounter with police officers in Atlanta was shot twice in the back and his death has been ruled a homicide.
The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office announced Sunday that Rayshard Brooks, 27, died after suffering organ damage and blood loss from the two gunshot wounds, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The medical examiner's office ruled the death a homicide, CNN reports. The office's determination doesn't necessarily suggest criminality, just that the victim's death was caused by another person.
Brooks' death comes amid ongoing protests against racial injustice and police violence, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis when a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, despite the man's pleas that he couldn't breathe. Floyd's death, as well as numerous other case cases of African-Americans dying at the hands of police, have prompted calls for urgent and sweeping law enforcement reforms.
Following Brooks’ death, violent protests took place across Atlanta as protesters torched the Wendy’s over the weekend where Brooks had first been approached by police.
Police were called to the Wendy’s around 10:30 p.m. Friday night after receiving reports that there was a man asleep in his vehicle in the drive-thru lane.
Body camera footage released by authorities, shows Officer Devin Brosnan approaching the man—who was later identified as Brooks—and knocking on the window.
“Hey man, you’re parked in the middle of the drive-thru line here,” Brosnan said in the footage.
Brooks appeared to be confused and disoriented. Brosnan directed Brooks to pull his vehicle over to a nearby parking spot and Brooks moved the vehicle—after he was woken up by the officer a second time.
Brosnan asked Brooks if he'd been drinking and Brooks responded that he'd had one drink.
Brosnan requested a second officer—Garrett Rolfe—come to the scene to assist with performing a DUI test. Rolfe performed the DUI test, which allegedly determined that Brooks has a blood alcohol level of .108, above the state’s legal limit of .08, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
Brooks told the officers that he had been drinking while celebrating his daughter’s birthday.
“I think you’ve had too much to drink to be driving,” Rolfe said, before instructing Brooks to “put your hands behind your back.”
At this point, a struggle ensued. One of the officers can be heard on the body camera footage warning Brooks to stop resisting.
“You’re going to get Tased! Stop fighting!” the officer said.
The scuffle wasn't caught on the body camera footage because both body cameras fell to the ground during the altercation but additional surveillance footage from the Wendy’s helped piece together the events that followed.
At some point during the “physical struggle” with the officers, Brooks gained control of one of the officers Tasers and began to run from the scene, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The video footage shows the officers pursuing Brooks on foot, before Brooks allegedly “turned and pointed the Taser” at Rolfe.
Rolfe fired his gun striking Brooks in the back, authorities said.
“It does appear in the video that he is fleeing from the Atlanta police officers, that as he’s fleeing he turns back over his shoulder with what appears to the naked eye to be his Taser that the eyewitnesses told us they saw the individual have that belonged to one of the officers,” GBI Director Vic Reynolds said in a Saturday afternoon press conference, according to the local paper. “And as he turned it over, you’ll be able to see on the video the Atlanta officer, literally reach down to get his service weapon and as he gets his weapon, Mr. Brooks begins turning his body away from him, I presume to flee.”
Shortly after the shooting, bystanders can be heard criticizing the officers for their actions.
“Both of your careers are definitely done, because you just shot a man, for no reason,” one person can be heard saying in the body camera footage.
Another said “That’s messed up, man!”
Rolfe—who was swiftly fired after the incident—told officers at the scene that Brooks had fired the Taser at him “at least once” before he fired his weapon.
Brosnan has been placed on administrative duty as the investigation into the incident continues.
On Sunday, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard questioned Rolfe’s actions on CNN.
“(Brooks) did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable,” Howard said. “It just seems like this is not the kind of conversation and incident that should have led to someone’s death.”
Howard said authorities are now determining whether Rolfe will face any criminal charges, which could include murder, felony murder or involuntary manslaughter charges.
"Specifically, (the question is if) Officer Rolfe, whether or not he felt that Mr. Brooks, at the time, presented imminent harm of death or some serious physical injury. Or the alternative is whether or not he fired the shot simply to capture him or some other reason," Howard said. "If that shot was fired for some reason other than to save that officer's life or to prevent injury to him or others, then that shooting is not justified under the law.”
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields resigned from her post shortly after the incident. Her decision to resign was announced by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
“Chief Erika Shields has been a solid member of APD for over two decades and has a deep and abiding love for the people of Atlanta,” Bottoms said, according to the local paper. “And because of her desire that Atlanta be a model of what meaningful reform should look like across this country, Chief Shields has offered to immediately step aside as police chief so that the city may move forward with urgency in rebuilding the trust so desperately needed throughout our community.”
Saturday night protests in the city turned violent as protesters torched the Wendy’s where Brooks had been stopped by police and shut down a nearby freeway. Police responded by launching tear gas, firing less-lethal projectiles into the crowd and arresting about three dozen protesters, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports.
Brooks had been a father of four. His wife, Tomika Miller, told CBS This Morning she hopes the officers involved in the fatal shooting will be sent to jail.
“I want them to go to jail. I want them to deal with the same things as if it was my husband who killed someone else,” she said. “If it was my husband who shot them, he would be in jail. He would be doing a life sentence.”
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