Atlanta police chief Erika Shields has resigned, less than 24 hours after an African American man was killed by officers outside a drive-through restaurant.
“Out of a deep and abiding love for this city and this department, I offered to step aside as police chief. APD has my full support,” Shields said in a statement. “Mayor Bottoms has my support on the future direction of this department. I have faith in the mayor, and it is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” she said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told reporters she did not think the shooting on Friday night of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks, after a confrontation with two officers who tried to arrest him after he failed a sobriety test, represented “justified use of deadly force”. She also called for the officer who shot Brooks to be fired immediately.
Brooks died in hospital after surgery, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said earlier. One officer was treated for an injury and discharged. The officers were not immediately identified.
The case is the latest in a string of killings of African Americans by police which have led to civil unrest in cities across the US. The 25 May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is the highest-profile such case. The death of Breonna Taylor, in her own home in Kentucky in March, is also a focal point of protests and demands for reform.
Atlanta has seen major protests and violence involving demonstrators and law enforcement. Bottoms’ response has come under a national spotlight, moving her into contention to be Joe Biden’s running mate in the presidential election against Donald Trump in November.
The Georgia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had called for Shields to step down. Bottoms said Shields’ deputy, Rodney Bryant, would serve as interim chief.
Speaking at a news conference, the mayor said: “What has become abundantly clear over the last couple of weeks in Atlanta is that while we have a police force full of men and women who work alongside our communities with honor, respect and dignity, there has been a disconnect with what our expectations are and should be, as it relates to interactions with our officers and the communities in which they are entrusted to protect.”
The GBI said it was asked by Atlanta police to investigate the shooting. GBI director Vic Reynolds said the incident was captured by a security camera and witnesses’ cellphones. The GBI would share the security camera footage, he said.
“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,” Reynolds told a news conference before Bottoms spoke, and as protesters gathered at the scene of the shooting and in other parts of the city.
Earlier on Saturday, Gerald Griggs, an attorney and a vice-president of the Atlanta NAACP, told the Associated Press: “The people are upset. They want to know why their dear brother Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed when he was merely asleep on the passenger side and not doing anything.”
Even though Brooks struggled with officers, Griggs said, “they could have used nonlethal force to take him down”.
A man who said he was a relative of Brooks, Decatur Redd, spoke to reporters and protesters.
“I’ve watched this on the internet, from the whole George Floyd situation to us coming together like we’re doing and this whole thing landed on my doorstep with my little cousin,” he said. “We’ve been watching this happen for so many years, with young black boys around the country just dying in vain. I just don’t want that to continue.
“I didn’t think it would hit right here, man. I thought this city was better than that. They’ve got to answer. Somebody’s gotta say something. We need to at least know that the city is with us.”
In a statement, Fulton county district attorney Paul Howard said his office had “already launched an intense, independent investigation”.
Members of his staff, Howard said, “were on scene shortly after the shooting, and we have been in investigative sessions ever since to identify all of the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident”.
Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who gained national prominence running for Georgia governor in 2018 and is also reportedly a contender to be Biden’s running mate, tweeted 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 wrote. “Yes, investigations must be called for but so too should accountability.”
Authorities said that after Brooks failed a field sobriety test, officers attempted to arrest him. He resisted and a struggle ensued, the officers attempting to use their Taser stun guns.
Reynolds said GBI agents had interviewed witnesses and reviewed video. He said their findings showed Brooks tried to fight off the officers. A security camera recorded Brooks “running or fleeing”, Reynolds said, adding: “It appears that he has in his hand a Taser.”
At the restaurant on Saturday, Crystal Brooks, who said she was Brooks’ sister-in-law, told the AP: “He wasn’t causing anyone any harm. 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. He did grab the Taser, but he just grabbed the Taser and ran.”
Reynolds said that during a short foot chase, Brooks “turns around and it appears at that time he points a Taser at an Atlanta officer”.
That was when the officer drew his gun and shot Brooks, Reynolds said, estimating the officer fired three times.