After Georgia's attorney general refused to reassign two high-profile cases involving allegations of excessive force against Atlanta police officers, including the killing of Rayshard Brooks the district attorney is asking the court to decide who should handle the prosecutions.
Newly elected Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis sent a letter to Attorney General Chris Carr in January asking him to reassign the cases, raising concerns that actions by her predecessor, Paul Howard, made it inappropriate for her office continuing to handle the cases.
Carr refused, saying the potential problems she cited had to do with Howard, not her, so the responsibility for the cases remained with her office. Willis responded last month asking Carr to reconsider, but he again declined.
At issue are the cases against two officers involved in a fatal confrontation with Rayshard Brooks and six officers facing charges after two college students were stunned with Tasers and pulled from their car. Howard brought charges against the officers within days of each incident last summer.
Willis argues Howard may have violated a state bar rule by using video evidence in television advertisements for his reelection campaign and noted that an investigation was underway into whether Howard improperly issued grand jury subpoenas in one of the cases.
In filings in Fulton County Superior Court on Friday, Willis's legal counsel asked the court to schedule a status conference — a meeting between the judges and lawyers in a case — to determine who represents the state in the cases.
“This cases is in a manifestly unique posture,” attorney Kevin Armstrong wrote in each filing. “The District Attorney has announced her recusal, but the Attorney General has refused to appoint a new prosecutor. There is no known precedent for this situation.”
The filings say Willis's office has hired attorney Jeff Davis, who is described as “an expert on legal and judicial ethics.” He believes that given her announcement of recusal, Willis “cannot make substantive filings or perform work on the case unless and until the Court resolves the open question as to who represents the State of Georgia in this matter,” Armstrong wrote in each filing.
Former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe faces charges, including murder, in Brooks’s June 12 death. Police body camera video shows the 27-year-old Black man struggling with officers, taking an officer's Taser and running after they told him he’d had too much to drink to be driving and tried to arrest him. The other officer, Devin Brosnan, was charged with aggravated assault and violating his oath. Lawyers for both officers have said their clients acted appropriately, and they are free on bond.
In the other case, two students at historically Black colleges in Atlanta, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, were confronted by police as they were stuck in downtown traffic May 30 during protest sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Police body camera footage shows officers shouting at the couple, firing Tasers at them and dragging them from the car. Six officers were charged and are free on bond.
Brooks's family and the two college students applauded last summer when Howard quickly brought charges. Their lawyers expressed disappointment with Willis's recusal announcement. Amid the back-and-forth between Willis and Carr, they called for the appointment of a special prosecutor in the cases, saying their clients just want the prosecutions to move forward so they can feel closure.
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