July 26, 2021

Rayshard Brooks’ Final Hour Was a Jarring Panorama of Policing

From beginning to end, the encounter between Rayshard Brooks and two Atlanta police officers lasted 41 minutes and 17 seconds. For the first 40 minutes, it looked like a textbook example of policing.

The officers treated Brooks, 27, with respect. They were cordial as they asked about his night and how much he had had to drink. They calmly guided him through a series of sobriety tests.

Then things went dangerously awry, and Brooks became yet another African American man to die at the hands of police.

The encounter — veering from calm to fatal and captured on video from multiple angles — has become the subject of intense scrutiny. There is vigorous debate over a host of decisions, big and small, that the two officers made last Friday night in a Wendy’s parking lot, where Brooks had fallen asleep in the driver’s seat in the drive-thru lane.

“It’s at the point where the officer places his hands on him that things go south in a fraction of a second,” said Kalfani Ture, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University who said he had viewed the video footage more than three dozen times. “So you have to pay attention to the minutiae of details — you have to try to understand decision-making, but you also have to pick out best practices.”

Understanding what went wrong, he said, is a crucial step in helping police do their jobs better and ease tensions with communities of color.

As the officers moved to arrest Brooks, whose Breathalyzer test registered a .108, above the legal limit to drive in Georgia, he bolted from their grasp, hit an officer, grabbed the other’s Taser, fired it and took off running.

Officer Garrett Rolfe discharged his own Taser and reached for his 9-millimeter Glock handgun as Brooks turned and discharged the stolen Taser again. Rolfe fired, striking Brooks twice in the back.

Brooks was 18 feet and 3 inches away when the first shot was fired. Prosecutors said that as Brooks lay dying, Rolfe kicked his bleeding body, and the other officer, Devin Brosnan, stood on his shoulder. Neither offered medical assistance for more than two minutes, prosecutors said.

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