The new district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia has asked that the state’s attorney general to appoint an alternative prosecutor for two high-profile police use-of-force cases.
District Attorney Fani T. Willis cited issues with her predecessor’s handling of a case involving two Black college students pulled from their cars by Atlanta police during a George Floyd protest and the case of Rayshard Brooks, a Black man who was killed by an Atlanta police officer outside a fast-food restaurant in June.
In a letter to State Attorney General Christopher Carr, Willis said former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard used video evidence as part of his television ad campaign for re-election. The campaign used footage from the Brooks case during the race that was won by Willis.
“I believe his conduct, including using video evidence in campaign television advertisements, may have violated Georgia Bar Rule 3.8(g),” she wrote.
She also pointed to Howard’s issuance of grand jury subpoenas, while no such panel was sitting due to the ongoing pandemic, as a reason why the case should be transferred out of her office. The Georgia Bureau of Investigations is looking into the grand jury issue.
“I believe both matters create sufficient question of the appropriateness of this office continuing to handle the investigation and possible prosecution of these cases that the public interest is served by disqualifying this office and referring the matter to specially appointed prosecutor,” Willis wrote.
One of the cases involves the use of force by six Atlanta Police officers, who broke a car window and pulled Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young from their vehicle during the Floyd protest last year.
The students were on their way home on May 30 from picking up food when they got caught in downtown Atlanta traffic near a large group of demonstrators who had taken to the city’s streets in protest over Floyd’s death during an arrest in Minneapolis.
The second case, less than two weeks later, involves Brooks’ death. He was killed by an Atlanta officer outside a Wendy’s restaurant after police responded to a report of a man sleeping in his car in the fast-food restaurant’s drive-thru lane.
After chatting calmly with the officers and failing a Breathalyzer test, Brooks resisted when officers moved to handcuff him for suspected drunken driving.
Video footage shows the three fighting on the ground before Brooks grabs an officer’s Taser and begins to run away. As an officer chases him, Brooks points the Taser over his shoulder at former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe, who then shoots him multiple times, the surveillance video shows. Brooks died at a hospital.
State Attorney General Carr’s office confirmed it received Willis’ request Thursday, but a spokesperson said it needed additional information.
“We are awaiting additional information necessary to initiate the process for appointing a substitute prosecutor,” said Shawn Conroy a spokesperson for the Attorney General.
Attorneys for Brooks’ family were surprised by Willis’ request, but said they were hopeful the case would be reassigned to a district attorney who would “use the full resources of their office to prosecute these officers.”
Mawuli Mel Davis, attorney for Messiah Young, expressed dismay at the move, saying the “young people and their families need and deserve closure.”
“They have been patient with the process and to now have to wait even longer is incredibly disheartening and frustrating,” Davis said in a statement. “This is essentially a restart of a case that we wanted ready for trial when the courts reopen.”