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Hope For Atlanta Officer Rolfe After DA Loses Re-Election

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool

Officer Garrett Rolfe was maliciously charged with murder and ten other counts in June by then-District Attorney Paul Howard. Last night, Howard was unseated by a tenacious young woman who worked under Howard for 16 years. Fani Willis won in a landslide with 73% of the vote. 

If you recall, Paul Howard is a slimy DA who embraced the media frenzy surrounding Rayshard Brooks' death. Howard conducted a theatrical press conference announcing criminal charges before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation completed an investigation of the shooting. He then audaciously used images from the shooting in his re-election campaign advertisements. 

During the press conference, Howard lied when he described the interaction between Brooks and Rolfe, saying, “Brooks never displayed any aggressive behavior during the 41 minutes and 17 seconds." If you recall from my analysis of the incident, Brooks had committed a felony obstruction by fighting the officers, felony assaults by striking both officers to rob them of the taser, and a felony robbery by stealing the taser while using force. He then suspiciously sought Felony Murder warrants for Ofc. Rolfe from a family court judge without criminal court experience.

Interestingly, at the time this shooting took place, Howard had over 40 other police use of force cases sitting on his desk, but those cases remained ignored because of a lack of associated media attention. Howard appears to have jumped on the opportunity to prosecute Officer Rolfe in an attempt to boost his campaign and divert attention from investigation into his own criminal conduct, for allegations of self-dealing and sexual abuse. Fani Willis suggested that Howard used Officer Rolfe "clearly for his political benefit." 

Willis won the DA seat after getting the local police union's endorsement. She also had a different perspective on how Officer Rolfe's case should be handled. "I do not have a plan to keep or drop the charges," she said in an interview leading up to the election. "What I plan to do, is look at all the evidence, look at the facts, and then make charging decisions; but I will do that based on the investigations conducted by the staff there, in the district attorney's office now, and based on the reports of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation." 

Moreover, Willis accused Brooks of sabotaging the prospect of a fair trial for Rolfe by turning the case into a "Ringling Brothers show" during the campaign. Indeed, pretrial publicity is a serious threat to a fair trial for any defendant. As such, Willis conceded that if the Rolfe case goes forward, it might have to be prosecuted in a different jurisdiction.

Without a doubt, the election of Fani Willis brought relief to Officer Rolfe, his family, and his defense team. There is finally hope that his case will be handled more objectively and more fairly. As I have concluded before, Officer Rolfe was justified in his use of force. He should never have been charged. If Fani Willis is as fair and objective as she claims to be, she will drop all charges against Officer Rolfe.

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