Atlanta police chief steps down after Black man ‘fleeing’ police shot at a Wendy’s drive-thru

The Atlanta police chief stepped down Saturday hours following the death of a 27-year-old Black man who was shot by an officer while fleeing during a struggle at a Wendy’s drive-thru late Friday night, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. 

Police Chief Erika Shields is immediately stepping down, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced in a news conference Saturday afternoon. She also called for the termination of the police officer who shot Brooks.

Rayshard Brooks had been asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru, causing other customers to drive around the car, the Bureau of Investigation said. Police were dispatched to the Wendy’s around 10:30 p.m., and conducted a sobriety test on Brooks, who failed the test, according to the officials.

“During the arrest, the male subject resisted and a struggle ensued,” the Bureau of Investigation said. “The officer deployed a Taser. Witnesses report that during the struggle the male subject grabbed and was in possession of the Taser. It has also been reported that the male subject was shot by an officer in the struggle over the Taser.”

One officer was treated for an injury and discharged. Brooks later died in the hospital after surgery. 

Bottoms said Shields would continue in a different role “to be determined” in the police department. 

“While there may be debate as to whether this was an appropriate use of deadly force, I firmly believe that there is a clear distinction between what you can do and what you should do. 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, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

She called Shields a “solid member of APD for over two decades.”

“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 move forward with urgency in rebuilding the trust so desperately needed throughout our community,” Bottoms said.

Atlanta Police Deputy Chief Rodney Bryant will serve as the interim chief, Bottoms said.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said Saturday afternoon that the agency had gathered surveillance video from the Wendy’s, police body cam video and bystander video posted to social media. They agency had spoken with at least one witness, who corroborated the videos, Reynolds said.

RReynolds said that, based on the videos, Brooks appeared to have a Taser in his hand as he ran from officers and, when he was a “relatively short distance away” or “five, six, seven parking spaces,” Brooks turned around and pointed the Taser at the officers. That’s when one officer took out his weapon and fired it, Reynolds said.

“It does appear in the video that he is fleeing from the Atlanta police officers,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said he not sure how many shots were fired. He did not comment on whether the officer’s use of force was appropriate.

The agency planned to make video available to the public by Saturday night, Reynolds said.

“We have not digitally enhanced that video yet. We will,” Reynolds said.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, Jr. said in a statement Saturday that his office had already launched an “intense, independent” investigation of the incident, and that members of his office were on the scene shortly after the shooting.

“Our thoughts and our sympathies are extended to the family of Rayshard Brooks as we must not forget that this investigation is centered upon a loss of life,” Howard said.

Bystander video of Brooks’ encounter with the police began to circulate on social media Friday night. USA TODAY could not independently verify the video.

Brook’s death comes amid thousands of protests worldwide against police killings of Black people. The mass protests began at the end of May, following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed as a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

Protesters gathered outside the Wendy’s Friday night and again on Saturday. 

Speaking to a group of reporters Saturday, Brooks’ cousin, Decatur Redd, told CNN that “I don’t know how to do this because I ever knew I was going to have to do this. I watched this on the internet from the whole George Floyd situation . . . and this whole thing landed on my doorstep with my little cousin.”

Redd said that he and his two sons had seen the video.

“The most hurtful thing for me is to watch that video – to wake up and watch that video,” Redd told CNN.

In a statement Saturday, the Georgia NAACP called for Shields and Bottoms to be held “accountable for the continued threat on innocent Black lives in their community.”

Protestors gather on University Ave near a Wendy's restaurant, Saturday, June 13, 2020 in Atlanta.

“Atlantans woke up to disturbing videos and reports of Rayshard being killed by the Atlanta Police Department. At this time, we must address the over-saturated police presence in Atlanta’s Black communities. This is not the first time a Black man was killed for sleeping,” the organization said in a statement. “The City of Atlanta must address this not only with their words, but also with their actions and budgetary decisions.” 

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams condemned the shooting on Twitter Saturday morning.

“The killing of #RayshardBrooks in Atlanta last night demands we severely restrict the use of deadly force. Yes, investigations must be called for – but so too should accountability,” Abrams wrote. “Sleeping in a drive-thru must not end in death.”

Other local officials in Georgia have also attracted scrutiny in recent months for their handling of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. In February, 25-year-old Arbery, who was Black, was fatally shot by three white men while out jogging about 2 miles from his home in a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Georgia. It took more than two months for murder charges and arrests in Arbery’s case,which was eventually handed over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

“I was just thinking ironically it was about a month or so ago I stood in front of you upstairs as the GBI got involved in the Arbery matter down in Brunswick,” Reynolds said Saturday. “As with the Arbery matter in Brunswick, we will ask again for the community’s patience.”

Ibram X. Kendi, whose book “How to Be an Antiracist” hit No. 1 on the hardcover nonfiction list after Floyd’s death as Americans sought to educate themselves about the nation’s racist systems, tweeted that Brooks should not be blamed for his death. 

“I suspect racist Americans will argue #RayshardBrooks shouldn’t have ran; he made the officers fear for their lives; his unarmed back threatened them; so they had to shoot him in the back. Or, we’ll hear about apples when another murderous tree has fallen,” he said. 

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