Rayshard Brooks video: Legal scholars break down key moments in shooting timeline
Rayshard Brooks was asleep in his car in a Wendy drive on Friday night when the police arrived.
An officer shot him just over 40 minutes later.
Video footage released by the Atlanta Police Department captures the timeline that led to Brooks's death and was convicted of murder by the Fulton County Medical Examiner on Sunday. Using a combination of the officer's body camera, dash camera, and Wendy surveillance, the footage reveals important decisions by the officers involved and important relationships that can be exposed in potential criminal or civil proceedings.
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Research shows that watching violent videos again can traumatize viewers and lead to mental health problems. In order to help readers understand what is happening in the video without having to watch it multiple times, USA TODAY spoke to four legal professors who analyzed the footage in a legal context.
More: What We Know: Timeline of Rayshard Brooks' death, protests, and aftermath of an Atlanta Wendy incident
Brooks agrees to look for weapons
Officer Devin Brosnan is the first to arrive on site. After waking Brooks and instructing him to pull his car off the transit line into a parking lot, Brosnan asks if Brooks has a gun and if he can do a search.
According to experts, the search is critical for two reasons.
"It shows he's cooperative," said Kenneth B. Nunn, a professor of law at Levin College of Law, University of Florida. "And the other thing that is very important in the search is that they patted him. He got out of the car and never gets back in the car. So the officials know that he has no weapon."
This knowledge becomes more important later when officers use force to restrain themselves and then shoot Brooks.
"The argument is, when officers show up, they are prepared and think that this will be a potentially deadly conflict. So if they just grab your wallet, they think there may be a gun," said Nunn. "But this You really can't put forward an argument here. "
Nunn referred to the 1999 case of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man who was shot 19 times by New York police officers after reaching for his wallet, which the police thought was a weapon. The four officers involved were acquitted.
Rayshard Brooks was the father of four children.
Katherine Macfarlane, an associate professor of law at the University of Idaho, whose article "Predictable Police Gunfights" was published in the Columbia Law Review Forum in January, said the decision to scan Brooks may have been the start of escalating tensions.
"So what's the fear suddenly that Mr. Brooks has a gun on?" Macfarlane said. "Even the mention, just the question of whether you are armed, even though I know it's routine, in my opinion makes this an encounter that feels much more dangerous now than a few minutes ago."
If she represented Brooks' family in a civil lawsuit, Macfarlane would like everyone involved to see the early footage long before the filming started. The question, she says, is whether even the first answer was justified and whether the fatal results from that first answer would have been expected.
"If we secure it and secure it to the extent that this has not been de-escalated, was it foreseeable that something violent would happen?" Macfarlane said.
"What went through these officers' heads? Didn't they know what was going on across the country and how careful these types of interactions had to be?"
Brooks asks if he can get out of his car and go
Within seven minutes, Brooks is asked to conduct on-site sobriety tests performed by officials. At some point, about 38 minutes after the encounter, Brooks asks if he can lock his car and go to his sister's house, which is not far away.
Experts agree that officials have a lot of leeway when it comes to arresting a person they think has committed a crime, including an indictment such as impaired driving.
"I think this is one of the key moments here," said David Harris, professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh. "Police officers always have a discretion over how to deal with a particular situation, with very limited exceptions."
Until then, the police had not performed an alcohol test. Harris said that if Brooks was ready and able to go home, a test may not have been necessary and, therefore, would not have placed the public at risk from driving during an impairment.
"It could be that many officials would make the arrest anyway. But a choice is made here. The police don't have to arrest him. You don't even have to give him a breath test, ”Harris said. The officer could have said, "OK, leave the car there, leave the keys with me and I'll drive the keys to the sister's house and you'll go home. Or I'll take you or get an Uber or whatever.
"Nobody says he has to make an arrest here. The law doesn't require it. "
More: "Baby, I don't want you to be": Rayshard Brooks' wife feared for his safety
Officers decide to arrest Brooks
Brooks agrees to an alcohol test a little less than 40 minutes after he was detained. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, he fails. officer
Garrett Rolfe then says, “I think you had too much to drink to drive. Put your hands behind your back for me, ”says the body camera.
Macfarlane said the police have received broad constitutional powers to arrest or continue to arrest someone if there is a probable reason that they have committed a crime. After Brooks failed the alcohol test and had enough likely reasons to continue holding him, she says.
"But I hope that we all get out of this conversation is that we have gone too far," she said. "The sensible approach to these conversations is to drive him home or have someone pick you up."
Trevor Gardner, associate professor of law at the Washington University School of Law, suggests that the police might consider allowing officials to issue subpoenas in court rather than arresting them.
"Do we have to be arrested for every single crime?" Gardner said. "Brooks offered to go from the police stop to his sister's house, presumably after the officers collected his identification information. Under these circumstances, arrest could be seen as an unnecessary escalation."
A Wendy's restaurant burns in Atlanta after demonstrators set it on fire on Saturday night after the death of Rayshard Brooks, a black man who was shot by the Atlanta police.
Brooks resists the arrest and takes the officer's taser
When officers try to handcuff Brooks, he resists and there is a skirmish.
"In the midst of this explosion of concern about African Americans and the police and he reads and sees the same things on TV as all of us, the police stops him and it looks like they are not sensible and take a long time and he starts to worry, "suggested Nunn, who also serves as deputy director of the Criminal Justice Center at the University of Florida.
Brooks and the two officers fall to the ground, where Brosnan reaches for his taser and tries to use it. Brooks reaches for it and eventually hits the officer.
Experts agree that Brooks is resisting and that the question of the appropriate police force is being raised.
"Legal but terrible": The Atlanta police had better options than fatal violence when shooting Rayshard Brooks, experts say
Harris, who moderates the Criminal Injustice podcast, says that the basic rules for the appropriate use of violence in all police departments are fairly consistent.
"The basic idea is that violence is divided into tiers, I usually think of six tiers, and that as a police officer, you can use enough violence to overcome the resistance you face," said Harris. "If you are not subjected to resistance, you must not use violence other than what is required to handcuff a person."
When Brooks retired, Harris said the officials should use enough force to overcome Brooks' resistance.
"While they were wrestling with him on the floor, God forbade them from trying to shoot him - that would be clearly wrong. They are not, they are trying to use a taser on him, and this is not considered a lethal force, though some people die of it if they do it badly. "
However, Nunn argues that officers, if they shot Brooks while they were all on the ground, could have argued that Brooks took up their weapons and feared their lives. In this case, the shooting could have been a reasonable amount of violence, says Nunn.
"If they shot him at that point, it would be much more difficult for the prosecutor," he said.
Brooks runs, the police shoot
At the height of the interaction, Brooks can be seen on surveillance videos made by the officers. In his hand is Brosnan's taser, which Brooks turns and shoots Rolfe. After Brooks unsuccessfully uses the taser, Rolfe reaches for his pistol and shoots three shots while Brooks runs. Brooks falls.
This is the main focus of Gardner, who says the first step is to look at Georgian law regarding deadly violence.
"The question is whether the officer reasonably believed that this course was necessary to prevent the officer from death or serious physical injury," Gardner said.
"There is a challenge here because Brooks runs away and the policeman shoots him twice in the back. These facts make the situation particularly tragic. Someone is shot in the back, which is a very difficult scenario for the public, especially for the African-American Community. "
When imagining how a prosecutor could tackle Rolfe's criminal case, Gardner says Brooks' possession and use of the Taser were taken into account.
"It feels like a bang-bang situation where the officer pulls out a gun in response to the taser being aimed and deployed," Gardner said. “When the officer shoots, Brooks has already turned and is running. Under these special circumstances, the question arises as to whether the officer reasonably believed, at the point where he fired his weapon, that he had to fire that weapon to prevent serious physical harm. "
The fact that the timeframe between when Brooks uses the taser ineffectively and continues to run and when he fires his weapon by Rolfe can make it difficult for the prosecutor, Gardner said.
"If Brooks runs away without a taser and an officer shoots him twice in the back, it is obviously much easier for a prosecutor to show fatal violence," Gardner said. "But the taser alone may not be enough for an officer to prove that he is at risk of serious physical injury."
According to Harris, there is no visible risk of death or serious injury. Based on the previous clap, the officers know that the only weapon in Brooks' possession is the Taser.
"In my view, there is no lethal threat until the officer picks up his gun and aims it," he said.
Early Sunday, Atlanta Police Department sergeant John Chafee confirmed to the US TODAY that Rolfe, who was hired in October 2013, was released for shooting at Brooks. Brosnan was placed in the administrative service. No announcement was made as to whether the officials would be prosecuted.
Nunn says that if criminal charges are prosecuted, they will likely be a form of criminal negligence, since Georgia has no second or third degree murder charges.
"I don't think there will be enough evidence of what we see to establish an intention to kill," said Nunn. "I think that takes murder off the table."
Macfarlane said that civil proceedings will also be difficult if the family decides to go to court.
"If you file a civil rights suit for such an incident, you can argue that the constitution has been violated in different ways and that you are entitled to monetary damages. One of the claims here could be a violation of the 4th amendment. You have used force to do so was inappropriate, and we get this sensible language from the 4th amendment itself. "
A defense against the excessive use of force that Macfarlane would expect is that officials are allowed to make a reasonable mistake. She compares it to situations like the Diallo case, in which officials confused a wallet with a gun.
If the officer can argue that he feared for his life, the life of others, or serious physical harm, then "he made a decision in a split second, we allow the officer to make it, and the result is what it is", Macfarlane said.
"I wish we would think more about a country is all that happened before and every single choice these police officers had to make to drive him home and have him call all the people he mentioned and those live nearby, "said Macfarlane." I think there is also room to legally think about it. "
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Rayshard Brooks video: Legal experts analyze key moments in shooting
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