ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta’s police chief resigned Saturday hours after a black man was fatally shot by officers in a struggle following a field sobriety test. Authorities said the slain man had grabbed an officer’s Taser, but was running away when he was shot.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields at a Saturday news conference as roughly 150 protesters marched outside the Wendy’s restaurant where 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot late Friday. The mayor also said she called for the immediate firing of the officer who opened fire at Brooks.
“I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force and have called for the immediate termination of the officer,” Bottoms said.
She said it was Shields’ own decision to step aside as police chief and that she would remain with the city in an undetermined role. Interim Corrections Chief Rodney Bryant would serve as interim police chief until a permanent replacement is found.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the shooting, said the deadly confrontation started with officers responding to a complaint that a man was sleeping in a car blocking the restaurant’s drive-thru lane. The GBI said Brooks failed a field sobriety test and then resisted officers’ attempts to arrest him.
The GBI released security camera video of the shooting Saturday. The footage shows a man running from two police officers as he raises a hand, which is holding some type of object, toward an officer a few steps behind him. The officer draws his gun and fires as the man keeps running, then falls to the ground in the parking lot.
GBI Director Vic Reynolds said Brooks had grabbed a Taser from one of the officers and appeared to point it at the officer as he fled, prompting the officer to reach for his gun.
“In a circumstance like this where an officer is involved in the use of deadly force, the public has a right to know what happened,” GBI Director Vic Reynolds told a news conference on a day when protesters gathered at the scene of the shooting and in other areas of Atlanta.
The security camera video does not show Brooks’ initial struggle with police.
The shooting came at a time of heightened tension over police brutality and calls for reforms across the U.S. following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Atlanta was among U.S. cities where large crowds of protesters took to the streets.
A crowd of roughly 150 demonstrators, including members of Brooks’ family, gathered Saturday outside the restaurant where he was shot. Police shut down streets for several blocks around the restaurant as protesters marched peacefully in the streets.
Among them was Crystal Brooks, who said she is Rayshard Brooks’ sister-in-law.
“He wasn’t causing anyone any harm,” she said. “The police went up to the car and even though the car was parked they pulled him out of the car and started tussling with him.”
She added: “He did grab the Taser, but he just grabbed the Taser and ran.”
Shields, Atlanta’s police chief for less than four years, was initially praised in the days following Floyd’s death last month. She said the Minnesota officers involved should go to prison and walked into crowds of protesters in downtown Atlanta, telling demonstrators she understood their frustrations and fears. She appeared at Bottoms’ side as the mayor made an impassioned plea for protesters to go home when things turned violent with smashed storefronts and police cruisers set ablaze.
Days later, Shields fired two officers and benched three others caught on video May 30 in a hostile confrontation with two college students whose car was stuck in traffic caused by the protests. The officers shouted at the pair, fired Tasers at them and dragged them from the vehicle. When prosecutors charged six officers with crimes in the incident, however, Shields openly questioned the timing and appropriateness of the charges.
The shooting of Brooks two weeks later raised further questions about the Atlanta department.
Reynolds said his agents worked through the night interviewing witnesses and reviewing video. He said their findings show that Brooks tried to fight off two officers when they tried to arrest him and at one point managed to take a Taser away from one of them.
A security camera recorded Brooks “running or fleeing from Atlanta police officers,” Reynolds said. “It appears that he has in his hand a Taser.”
During a short foot chase Brooks “turns around and it appears at that time he points a Taser at an Atlanta officer,” Reynolds said. That’s when the officer drew his gun and shot Brooks, he said, estimating the officer fired three times.
Reynolds said his agents will turn over results of their investigation to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, whose office will decide whether criminal charges are warranted against either of the officers.
Howard said Saturday his “has already launched an intense, independent investigation of the incident” without waiting for the GBI’s results.
Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat who gained national prominence running for governor in 2018, tweeted Saturday of the shooting that “sleeping in a drive-thru must not end in death.”
“The killing of #RayshardBrooks in Atlanta last night demands we severely restrict the use of deadly force,” Abrams tweeted. “Yes, investigations must be called for — but so too should accountability.”
The officers involved in the shooting were not identified.
Brooks died after being taken to an Atlanta hospital. One of the officers was treated and released for unspecified injuries.