Atlanta officer says not ‘state’s witness’ in Rayshard Brooks case, contradicting prosecutor

FILE PHOTO: Protesters rally against racial inequality and the police shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. June 13, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Devin Brosnan, one of the two Atlanta police officers charged in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, has not agreed to be a witness for the prosecution, his lawyer said on Thursday, contradicting an assertion by the lead prosecutor on the case.

Brosnan turned himself into authorities on Thursday. His lawyer said he would soon be out of custody in an hour or so after processing paperwork.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard had told a news conference on Wednesday that Brosnan had turned “state witness”, agreeing to help prosecute Garrett Rolfe, the other officer charged in the killing of Brooks on June 12.

Rolfe, who shot Brooks in the back with his gun, was charged with felony murder and 10 other charges. Brosnan, who did not discharge his weapon, faces a handful of lesser charges, including aggravated assault and violation of his oath.

The death of Brooks – the latest in a long line of African Americans whose fatal encounters with law enforcement have been documented on video – further heightened U.S. social tensions at a time of national soul searching over police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system.

Howard had highlighted Brosnan’s cooperation as “something remarkable”, adding that the officer had “now become a state’s witness. He has decided to testify on behalf of the state in this case.”

Don Samuel, Brosnan’s lawyer, said that was not true.

While his client had told Howard’s office “everything” during a lengthy interview and would cooperate with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s probe, he had not agreed to be “state’s witness,” the lawyer said.

“Officer Brosnan has not agreed to testify. He has not agreed to plead guilty,” Samuel said in an emailed statement, adding that he “has not agreed to be a ‘state’s witness'”.

Brooks’ killing came amid a storm of protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who perished after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. That officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with second-degree murder. Three other Minneapolis policemen were charged with aiding and abetting.

The police encounter with Brooks started out calmly after he was found sleeping in his car at a Wendy’s restaurant drive-through lane in Atlanta. Rolfe and Brosnan administered a sobriety test, after which the situation escalated.

Previously released video of the Brooks appeared to show Brooks grabbing one of the officer’s Taser stun guns and turning and pointing it at Rolfe before being shot. Howard said Thursday that investigators concluded Rolfe knew by then that the Taser had already been fired twice and thus was rendered harmless.

One of the bullets from Rolfe’s gun hit a white Chevy Trailblazer at the Wendy’s, threatening the life of the three passengers inside, according to Howard and the charging documents against the two officers.

One of the car’s passengers, Michael Perkins, told a media briefing on Thursday that he had taken cover in the back seat as the struggle between the officers and Brooks escalated. He said he “smelt gunsmoke” but was unaware the car had taken a bullet until later.

“I almost was killed myself. I feel troubled about it but I’m glad the family is getting the justice it deserves.”

Samuel described the decision to charge his client as “irrational” and politically-motivated. He said Brosnan’s conduct on the night of the shooting was “exemplary” and a “textbook example” of how an officer should approach a situation involving someone inebriated, as Brooks was that night.

While Brosnan did not fire his gun, Howard charged him with aggravated assault for allegedly standing on Brooks’ body after he was shot and for violating his oath of office by not rendering medical aid immediately after he went down.

Samuel said Brosnan, despite suffering a concussion during a tussle with Brooks, rushed to provide medical aid.

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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