After Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. charged Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder Wednesday, some of his brothers and sisters who wear the Phoenix-rising patch of Georgia's capital city decided to stand down.
There are reports that officers literally walked off the job in some of the six city zones they cover or they refused to leave their stations except to help fellow officers. Atlanta PD would only say: "The department is experiencing a higher than usual number of call outs with the incoming shift. We have enough resources to maintain operations & remain able to respond to incidents." Some sources said the situation was much more difficult than the APD brass would admit.
The Washington Post reported:
The city was left scrambling to cover absences as the Atlanta Police Department tried to tamp down rumors of a mass police walkout that spread widely on social media.
It’s unclear how many officers declined to show up for their Wednesday night shift. The police department declined to answer specific questions about the no-shows and the mayor did not release specific numbers when she spoke to reporters late Wednesday.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN that some officers are staying on shift to make up the difference, and the city can call on partners in other departments across the metropolitan area if needed.
However, there are reports that local sheriff's departments and the Georgia Highway Patrol declined to offer aid and will not work the city's streets.
“This is not an organized thing, it’s not a blue flu, it’s not a strike, it’s nothing like that,” Vince Champion, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, told NBC News. “What it actually is is officers protesting that they’ve had enough and they don’t want to deal with it any longer.”
Officers in Atlanta, as in other major cities, have been coping with weeks of protests and riots triggered by the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. They have also seen four Atlanta officers fired over "excessive force" during the protests, Officer Rolfe fired over the fatal shooting of DUI suspect Rayshard Brooks last Friday, the chief step down and take another post with the city, and finally the straw that made them say enough, the prosecution for felony murder of Rolfe for shooting and killing Brooks.
Many officers object to what they see as a rush to judgment by the mayor and the DA. Some see the incident as a case of justified use of deadly force.
Even DA Howard admitted in his news conference where he announced the charges against Rolfe and another officer, Devin Brosnan, that Brooks fought with the officers, took away a TASER from an officer, and turned and fired it at Rolfe, before Rolfe opened fire.
But DA Howard, who is in a heated runoff election and is accused of using a non-profit to funnel $140K in city funds to himself, performed some amazing legal gymnastics to come up with a felony murder charge against Rolfe.
First, he slammed the officers for escalating the situation with Brooks. According to Howard, the encounter between Brooks, who was sleeping behind the wheel of a car in a Wendy's drive-through lane, was cordial until Rolfe tried to arrest him. As any street cop knows, that moment the handcuffs come out is often the point where things get nasty. Very few people want to go to jail.
Second, Howard charged Rolfe with felony murder because as I understand his logic—and I'm not sure I do—Rolfe committed aggravated assault by opening fire on Brooks, and it was felony murder because he killed Brooks while committing the felony of aggravated assault. There's more to his argument, but that's how I believe he gets felony murder.
Howard held his press conference and charged the officers before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had finished its independent investigation. He didn't even notify the GBI that he was going to file the charges.
The GBI was not happy and basically said so on Facebook and Twitter. "The GBI was not aware of today’s press conference before it was conducted. We were not consulted on the charges filed by the District Attorney. Despite today’s occurrence, the GBI will complete its mission of completing an impartial and thorough investigation of this incident and we will submit the file, once completed, to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office."
It should be noted here that the GBI is investigating DA Howard for that previously mentioned $140K of taxpayer funds that he is accused of adding to his personal wealth.
Howard jumped the gun on charging Rolfe. And it's possible he did so because his political career could end with that August runoff election. Being tough on cops plays well with much of his constituency, in fact during the press conference Howard made a point of telling the public he had prosecuted 40 cops during his tenure with the DA's office.
He may have been successful in those other cases against police, but he has clearly overcharged Rolfe. The defense will prevail in this case and that could trigger more protests and riots somewhere in the near future.
What we know now is that Rolfe's press conference caused an outbreak of unorganized "blue flu" in the Atlanta PD.
The officers were already sick and tired.
Mayor Bottoms says police morale is down "ten-fold" in Atlanta. She told CNN, "This has been a very tough few weeks in Atlanta and with the tragedy of Mr. Brooks, and then on top of that the excessive force charges that were brought against the officers involved with the college students, there's a lot happening in our city, and the police officers are receiving the brunt of it quite frankly."
Police Union spokesman Champion says Bottoms is part of the morale problem. "They're just fed up. I mean, their mayor has come out and said everything that they used to do with use of force is not valid—'Don't do it'—so I don't know how we defend ourselves when people want to fight us," he said.
The Atlanta Police Foundation said Wednesday it was giving all APD officers a $500 bonus to help improve morale.
That's probably too little too late.
And now it's up to Mayor Bottoms and interim Chief Rodney Bryant to clean up this hot mess. Good luck. You are probably about to face an extreme officer shortage, as many of your best lateral to other departments.