The death of Rayshard Brooks, a black man killed by a white police officer in Atlanta on Friday, was a homicide caused by gunshot wounds to the back, the Fulton county medical examiner’s office has said, as the US headed into a fourth week of unrest over police violence.
An autopsy conducted on Sunday showed that Brooks, 27, died from blood loss and organ injuries caused by two gunshot wounds, an investigator for the medical examiner said in a statement. The manner of his death was homicide, the statement said.
Brooks’s death reignited protests in Atlanta after days of worldwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality prompted by the death of George Floyd, an African American, in police custody in Minneapolis on 25 May.
On Sunday night riot police gathered at a police precinct a few miles from the scene of his killing after reports of threats to burn down a Wendy’s restaurant. They were followed by hundreds of protesters, a handful arriving with cases of water. A chant of “This is not a riot!” went up and one man told police he expected they were there with the “same peaceful intentions” as protesters.
Leading Democrats said on Sunday that the Brooks killing underlined the need for significant change in US law enforcement.
Brooks’s fatal encounter with police came after an employee of a Wendy’s in Atlanta phoned authorities to say that someone had fallen asleep in his car in the restaurant’s drive-through lane.
Recorded on the officer’s body camera and a surveillance camera, the encounter seemed friendly at first as Brooks cooperated with a sobriety test and talked about his daughter’s birthday.
“I watched the interaction with Mr Brooks and it broke my heart,” Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, said on CNN. “This was not confrontational. This was a guy that you were rooting for.”
But when an officer moved to arrest him, Brooks struggled with him and another officer at the scene before breaking free and running across the parking lot with what appears to be a police Taser in his hand, a bystander’s video showed.
Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed during an encounter with Atlanta police on Friday. Photograph: Stewart Trial Attorneys Handout/EPA
A video from the restaurant’s cameras shows Brooks turning as he runs and possibly aiming the Taser at the pursuing officers before one of them fires his gun and Brooks falls.
Bottoms said on Saturday: “I do not believe this was a justified use of deadly force.”
Atlanta’s police chief, Erika Shields, resigned over the shooting. Garrett Rolfe, the officer who shot Brooks, was fired, and the other officer involved in the incident, also white, was put on administrative leave.
As demonstrators in Atlanta took to the streets and called for the officers in Brooks’s case to be criminally charged, the Wendy’s restaurant was set on fire.
On Sunday police offered a $10,000 reward and published photos of what appeared to be a masked white woman being sought in connection with the fire.
Police said they were seeking those responsible for the blaze, including a woman who was “attempting to hide her identity”. The department posted photos on social media of what looked to be a young white woman wearing a black baseball cap and face mask, and a video clip filmed by a protester that appeared to show a woman encouraging the flames.
“Look at the white girl trying to burn down the Wendy’s,” the man recording the video can be heard saying. “This wasn’t us.”
Lawyers for Brooks’s family said he was the father of a young daughter who was celebrating her birthday on Saturday. They said the officers had no right to use deadly force even if he had fired the Taser, a non-lethal weapon, in their direction.
Prosecutors would decide by midweek whether to bring charges, said the Fulton county district attorney, Paul Howard. “[The victim] did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable,” Howard told CNN.