In the interest of shedding some light on this, Liberty Nation presents this interview with Legal Affairs Editor Scott Cosenza on the tricky issues surrounding Brooks’s death, including the use of force, resisting arrest, and how police are schooled regarding the deployment of tasers.
Leesa K. Donner: The Fulton County district attorney threw the proverbial book at former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe on Wednesday, June 17, but it appears not to have mollified anyone. Rolfe faces eleven charges, including felon murder, which, in Georgia, carries the possibility of the death penalty. Still, protests in Atlanta were staged by those decrying racially motivated police brutality. Meanwhile, some Atlanta police officers participated in what appeared to be a “sick out” following the announcement of the charges against Rolfe. But when you get down to brass tacks, what is the essence of this case?
Scott Cosenza: It’s hard to understand how the Rayshard Brooks incident is about anything other than resisting arrest. George Floyd may have resisted arrest, but he was subdued and restrained – and in custody – when he was killed. Mr. Brooks was an escaped arrestee who just committed multiple felonies, including aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer. Excepting the races of the decedents and the police involvement, there seems to be nothing similar between the two incidents. This case has no lessons to offer in the national conversation about police and race unless you think a Caucasian would be allowed to resist arrest, fight the police, steal their weapon and use it against them without a similar result.
LKD: There are a lot of phrases being bandied about here: use of force, excessive force, etc. Can you spell out for our readers what level of force is generally permitted to law enforcement when someone grabs one of their weapons or resists arrest or even levels that confiscated weapon against the police?
SDC: I don’t think we need to concern ourselves with exclusive rights police may have in certain situations. Any person who hasn’t started a fight has the right to self-defense, up to and including the use of deadly force, to protect against serious bodily injury. There seems to be a widespread misconception out there that police officers may not shoot a person unless that person uses deadly force against them. This is not true. Any person may do so, provided they reasonably fear serious bodily injury.
There is only one reasonable assumption for a police officer to make when an arrestee grabs their weapon – that they will attempt to use it against them. That Mr. Brooks was mild and meek and cooperative for any number of minutes before his assault and robbery of Officer Rolfe is irrelevant. He wasn’t shot while observing lawful orders; he was shot while attempting to escape custody and leveling a taser at a police officer in hot pursuit.
LKD: Well, since you’ve brought up the taser, let’s focus on that for a moment. What instructions are cops given during training regarding tasers? And is a taser considered a deadly weapon or not?
SDC: A taser is a less-lethal weapon, which is why police officers may tase someone but may not be permitted to shoot them, for instance. Police officers are instructed in no uncertain terms that they are to shoot someone who is trying to tase them. I interviewed a police taser trainer who told me: “If a taser is used against you, the indicated response is to use deadly force.” That is the instruction every officer receives as part of his or her taser training. It is reasonable to suspect that officer Rolfe received substantially similar guidance. If so, we should expect him to be exonerated of the charges against him.
LKD: There are undoubtedly other factors at play in the Rayshard Brooks incident. But as an arrest gone bad becomes a criminal justice matter, all these factors and more must be considered. This case will surely take time and effort from all parties in the search for justice – and an outraged but uninformed public should have no bearing on it.