The recent officer-involved shooting of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe has ignited another flame in the fervent calls against police brutality and reform.

At the heart of the situation is the use of the well-known electric control device (ECD) known as TASER.

It was during the arrest of Mr. Brooks for DUI when he decided to escape custody by struggling with the two officers at the scene, Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan. During Brooks’ violent attempt to flee, he and the two officers fell to the ground where the struggle continued. Brooks was able to overpower the officers and even punched one of the officers in the face.

Brosnan, who was the first officer to respond, attempted to use a TASER on Brooks in an attempt to gain control. This was a justifiable action by Bronson, to use a level of force that was necessary to overcome Brooks’ physical resistance to arrest. But Brooks gained control of Brosnan’s TASER, taking it from him before fleeing on foot.

How much force is reasonable?

Law enforcement officers should use only the amount of force necessary to gain control of an incident, to make an arrest, or protect themselves or others from injury. But they should always use the amount of force necessary to make the arrest. Nothing more and nothing less. In most cases, though, this amounts to nothing more than an officer asking or telling a subject to place their hands behind their back for handcuffing.

The levels of force police use include basic verbal commands, physical restraint which sometimes involve pain compliance techniques/tactics, TASERS, pepper spray, beanbag rounds, pepper spray, batons, etc. And lastly, lethal force when there’s threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officers or others.

Was the Rayshard Brooks incident similar to that of George Floyd?

The Brooks incident was wholly different than what occurred in the George Floyd case. We saw no resistance from Floyd during the time Chauvin and  other officers applied pressure to his body, slowly draining the life from Floyd as the world watched precious seconds tick by.

In the Atlanta case, Brooks absolutely physically resisted a lawful arrest, assaulted an officer, and then forcibly took/stole Bronson’s TASER, and fled. Then, during a brief foot pursuit Brooks turned slightly toward Officer Garrett Rolfe and pointed and fired the stolen TASER at the officer.

A Deadly Weapon?

There’s a debate about whether or not a TASER is a deadly weapon and, if not, was the officer justified in shooting Brooks. On the other hand, if a TASER is indeed a deadly weapon as some are saying, then obviously the use of deadly force against Brooks, or anyone, fits the criteria and is justified.

Earlier this month, Fulton County, Georgia  District Attorney Paul Howard charged six Atlanta police officers with using excessive force in pulling two college students out of a car during a protest. When announcing charges against some of the officers, Howard said a Taser is considered a deadly weapon under Georgia law. Here he is, on video, making the statement during a press conference earlier this month. He made the statement when announcing that he was charging police officers with using excessive force when using  a TASER while arresting college students during a protest.

However, in the Brooks case, just a few days after incident with the college students, DA Howard had apparently decided that a TASER is not a deadly weapon when it is forcibly stolen from a police officer and then deployed against another police officer. He charged Rolfe with felony murder.

By the way, to take something from someone by force or intimidation is considered robbery, a felony.

Either way, there’s a wrinkle in the case and that’s that Officer Rolfe shot Brooks in the back. But there are details that are extremely important. Such as …

The incident was caught on video and we clearly see Rolfe chasing behind Brooks. Each of the two men are clutching a TASER in their right hands. Keep in mind that this all occurred within mere seconds.

While fleeing from the officers, with the stolen TASER in his right hand, Brooks turned/twisted his upper body slightly to his right, looking back over his shoulder toward Rolfe. He aimed the TASER at Rolfe as a portion of his back is visible to Rolfe. His hips and legs still faced forward and he’s still running away from the officers.

Still running away from the officers, with Rolfe in somewhat close pursuit, Brooks fired the TASER at Rolfe. As the weapon was deployed it emitted a brilliant flash of light that’s quite similar to a muzzle flash of a handgun that can be clearly seen, especially so at night. It’s similar to a camera flash that hinders vision for a moment or two. It’s a quick burst of bright light.

 

After discharging the TASER Brooks continued his escape from custody.

 

At the time Brooks fired the TASER setting off the flash of bright light, Rolfe tossed his TASER and drew his service weapon. He then fired three rounds at Brooks.

Many say that shooting someone in the back is illegal. Well, it depends on the circumstances and, in a nutshell, it boils down to whether the officer reasonably believed at the point he pulled the trigger, that the use of deadly force was needed in order to prevent great bodily injury to himself or to others. Not a second before the trigger is pulled, but at that precise moment.

In that precise moment when an officer must make the “blink of an eye” decision as to whether or not someone’s life is in danger, including their own, if they should return fire, are there bystanders, is a dangerous criminal going to escape and go on to harm someone else, is the fleeing subject wanted for a serious offense (why else would they have assaulted two officers and then fled the scene), and, and, what-if, what-if. This, all within the blink of an eye.

Remember, a police officer’s quickest reaction time (based on a study of 46 trained officers), when they already know the threat is there, AND, with their finger already on the trigger, is 0.365 seconds. That’s certainly not enough time to take aim, yell a bunch of commands, check for passersby, look for accomplices, and, well, you get the idea.

To add to the zillion thoughts to process, this is what the officer sees and to what they must react. You tell me, is this fleeing person firing a handgun or a TASER? The flash from either could easily prevent any reasonable person from taking the distinction, especially during a highly stressful situation. It’s even more difficult to process when the incident occurs at night.

And, the image above clearly shows how and why sometimes fleeing criminals wind up with bullet wounds to the back.


For your information, and to help you better understand the charges brought against the former officers involved in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks, here are a few applicable Georgia criminal code sections.

Actually, I’m not at all certain that Georgia law supports the charges.

Officer Rolfe was charged with felony murder for shooting Brooks. This is a crime where the deliberate intention to kill must be present. Or, if the person is actively involved in the commission of felony when a person is killed, such as when a bank robber accidentally fires a weapon inside the bank and the round strikes a teller and he dies. That’s felony murder. Plotting to kill someone and you do. That’s felony murder. Beating an elderly woman to death because she wouldn’t smile at you. That’s felony murder.

This case doesn’t meet those requirements. The DA may have slightly overcharged. Perhaps he should have waited until the investigation had concluded and perhaps he should have consulted with the state investigators before charging Rolfe and Bronson. That’s typically how it works.

In Georgia, felony murder is:

ARTICLE 1 – HOMICIDE
§ 16-5-1 – Murder; felony murder

O.C.G.A. 16-5-1 (2010)
16-5-1. Murder; felony murder

(a) A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.

(b) Express malice is that deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

(c) A person also commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.

(d) A person convicted of the offense of murder shall be punished by death, by imprisonment for life without parole, or by imprisonment for life.


Georgia Code Title 16. Crimes and Offenses § 16-10-33

(a) For the purposes of this Code section, the term “firearm” shall include stun guns and tasers. A stun gun or taser is any device that is powered by electrical charging units such as batteries and emits an electrical charge in excess of 20,000 volts or is otherwise capable of incapacitating a person by an electrical charge.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to remove or attempt to remove a firearm, chemical spray, or baton from the possession of another person if:

(1) The other person is lawfully acting within the course and scope of employment;  and

(2) The person has knowledge or reason to know that the other person is employed as:

(A) A peace officer as defined in paragraph (8) of Code Section 35-8-2 ;


Georgia Code Title 16. Crimes and Offenses § 16-11-106

(a) For the purposes of this Code section, the term “firearm” shall include stun guns and tasers. A stun gun or taser is any device that is powered by electrical charging units such as batteries and emits an electrical charge in excess of 20,000 volts or is otherwise capable of incapacitating a person by an electrical charge.

(b) Any person who shall have on or within arm’s reach of his or her person a firearm or a knife having a blade of three or more inches in length during the commission of, or the attempt to commit:

(1) Any crime against or involving the person of another;

(2) The unlawful entry into a building or vehicle;

(3) A theft from a building or theft of a vehicle;

(4) Any crime involving the possession, manufacture, delivery, distribution, dispensing, administering, selling, or possession with intent to distribute any controlled substance or marijuana as provided in Code Section 16-13-30 , any counterfeit substance as defined in Code Section 16-13-21 , or any noncontrolled substance as provided in Code Section 16-13-30.1 ; or

(5) Any crime involving the trafficking of cocaine, marijuana, or illegal drugs as provided in Code Section 16-13-31 ,

and which crime is a felony, commits a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by confinement for a period of five years, such sentence to run consecutively to any other sentence which the person has received.

(c) Upon the second or subsequent conviction of a person under this Code section, the person shall be punished by confinement for a period of ten years. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, the sentence of any person which is imposed for violating this Code section a second or subsequent time shall not be suspended by the court and probationary sentence imposed in lieu thereof.

(d) The punishment prescribed for the violation of subsections (b) and (c) of this Code section shall not be reducible to misdemeanor punishment as is provided by Code Section 17-10-5 .

(e) Any crime committed in violation of subsections (b) and (c) of this Code section shall be considered a separate offense.


Is a TASER deadly?

In 2019, Reuters reported documenting at least 1,081 U.S. deaths involving TASER use by police. These deaths occurred since police began routinely using the electronics control devices in the early 2000s.

In 2009, these people died as a result of TASER deployment by police. Many had underlying health conditions and/or drug use/abuse that contributed to their deaths.

1. Jan 9, 2009: Derrick Jones, 17

Martinsville, Virginia

Initial complaint – Police were called to Jones’ home because of a loud noise complaint from neighbors. Jones died in his home after being shot with a police Taser.

2. Jan 11, 2009: Rodolfo Lepe, 31

Bakersfield, California

Initial complaint – Family members called police because Rodolfo was exhibiting odd and bizarre behavior. Lepe died at the hospital after being shot with a police Taser.

3. Jan 22, 2009: Roger Redden, 52

Soddy Daisy, Tennessee

Initial complaint – unknown

4. Feb 2, 2009: Garrett Jones, 45

Stockton, California

Initial complaint – unknown

5. Feb 11, 2009: Richard Lua, 28

San Jose, California

Initial complaint – unknown

6. Feb 13, 2009: Rudolph Byrd, 37

Thomasville, Georgia

Initial complaint – Byrd had been in an auto accident and was disoriented. He was also bleeding from several lacerations. The responding police officer found cocaine at the scene and attempted to arrest Byrd, who then became combative. The officer deployed his Taser, attempting to stop the threat. Byrd stopped breathing and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

7. Feb 13, 2009: Michael Jones, 43

Iberia, Louisiana

Unknown

8. Feb 14, 2009: Chenard Kierre Winfield, 32

Los Angeles, California

Unknown

9. Feb 28, 2009: Robert Lee Welch, 40

Conroe, Texas

Unknown

10. Mar 22, 2009: Brett Elder, 15

Bay City, Michigan

Unknown

11. Mar 26, 2009: Marcus D. Moore, 40

Freeport, Illinois

Moore, a wanted fugitive, fought with police when they attempted to apprehend him. Officers deployed their Tasers to help effect the arrest and Moore soon began to complain of shortness of breath. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.

12. Apr 1, 2009: John J. Meier Jr., 48

Tamarac, Florida

Unknown

13. Apr 6, 2009: Ricardo Varela, 41

Fresno, California

Unknown

14. Apr 10, 2009: Robert Mitchell, 16

Detroit, Michigan

Mitchell, who weighed 110 pounds and stood 5’2″ tall at the time of arrest, was in custody and undergoing a pat down search by police when a struggle began. The officer deployed his Taser and the boy died. Autopsy results revealed the boy had a heart condition that, when aggravated by the Taser blast, caused the death.

15. Apr 13, 2009: Craig Prescott, 38

Modesto, California

Prescott, a jail inmate, struggled with deputies who deployed Tasers. The coroner ruled that it was the physical exertion from the struggle that killed Prescott, not the Taser.

16. Apr 16, 2009: Gary A. Decker,

Tuscon, Arizona

Initial complaint – loud noise

17. Apr 18, 2009: Michael Jacobs Jr., 24

Fort Worth, Texas

Initial complaint – Parents called police to assist with controlling their mentally impaired son.

18. Apr 30, 2009: Kevin LaDay, 35

Lumberton, Texas

Initial complaint – DUI traffic stop. LaDay ran and was shot with a Taser.

19. May 4, 2009: Gilbert Tafoya, 53

Holbrook, Arizona

Unknown

20. May 17, 2009: Jamaal Valentine, 27

La Marque, Texas

Police found Valentine rolling in a ditch. They deployed their Tasers and the subject died. Autopsy revealed a controlled substance in Valentine’s system.

21. May 23, 2009: Gregory Rold, 37

Salem, Oregon

Initial complaint – trespassing.

22. Jun 9, 2009: Brian Cardall, 32

Hurricane, Utah

Cardell’s wife called 911 asking for help with her husband who was experiencing a psychotic episode. Cardell was being treated and medicated for his condition. Here’s the wife’s 911 call.

This is actual police audio from the scene. It begins with the officer saying, “I’m 23…” That’s short for 10-23, meaning he has arrived on the scene. Listen as he fires his Taser at the man who is clearly distraught. Then you’ll hear the officers begin to notice that the man is not breathing and has no pulse.

23. Jun 13, 2009: Dwight Madison, 48

Bel Air, Maryland

Initial complaint – Homeless man knocking on doors looking for a friend.

24. Jun 20, 2009 Derrek Kairney, 36

South Windsor, Connecticut

Unknown

25. Jun 30, 2009, Shawn Iinuma, 37

Fontana, California

Unknown

26. Jul 2, 2009, Rory McKenzie, 25

Bakersfield, California

Unknown

27. Jul 20, 2009, Charles Anthony Torrence, 35

Simi Valley, California

Unknown

28. Jul 30, 2009, Johnathan Michael Nelson, 27

Riverside County, California

Unknown

29. Aug 9, 2009, Terrace Clifton Smith, 52

Moreno Valley, California

Unknown

30. Aug 12, 2009, Ernest Ridlehuber, 53

Greenville, South Carolina

Initial complaint – Ridlehuber’s family reported him as a missing person.

31. Aug 14, 2009, Hakim Jackson, 31

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Unknown

32. Aug 18, 2009, Ronald Eugene Cobbs, 38

Greensboro, North Carolina

Scuffle with deputies inside the local jail.

33. Aug 20, 2009, Francisco Sesate, 36

Mesa, Arizona

Unknown

34. Aug 22, 2009, T.J. Nance, 37

Arizona City, Arizona

Unknown

35. Aug 26, 2009, Miguel Molina, 27

Los Angeles, California

Unknown

36. Aug 27, 2009, Manuel Dante Dent, 27

Modesto, California

Dent swallowed a bag of methamphetamine to prevent police officers from retrieving it as evidence. An officer then placed a Taser in direct contact with Dent’s skin and fired. Dent died hours later, but autopsy results indicated that the meth he’d ingested was the cause of death, not the Taser blast.

37. Sep 3, 2009, Shane Ledbetter, 38

Aurora, Colorado

38. Sep 16, 2009, Alton Warren Ham, 45

Modesto, California

Initial complaint – Home invasion/robbery. Ham became combative with jailers so they used a Taser to get him under control. He died immediately after being shot. Autopsy results indicated that Ham had an enlarged heart.

39. Sep 19, 2009, Yuceff W. Young II, 21

Brooklyn, Ohio

Unknown

40. Sep 21, 2009, Richard Battistata, 44

Laredo, Texas

Initial complaint – Burglary in progress. Battistata was confronted by police as a burglary suspect. The officer deployed her Taser and the suspect died on the scene. Autopsy results indicated that the suspect died as a result of a cocaine overdose.

41. Sep 28, 2009, Derrick Humbert, 38

Bradenton, Florida

Initial complaint – Officer stopped Humbert for riding a bicycle after dark without a headlight.

42. Oct 2, 2009, Rickey Massey, 38

Panama City, Florida

Initial complaint – Possession of cocaine

43. Oct 12, 2009, Christopher John Belknap, 36

Ukiah, California

Unknown

44. Oct 16, 2009, Frank Cleo Sutphin, 19

San Bernadino, California

Initial complaint – Fight call

45. Oct 27, 2009, Jeffrey Woodward, 33

Gallatin, Tennessee

Unknown

46. Nov 13, 2009, Herman George Knabe, 58

Corpus Christi, Texas

Initial complaint – Man riding a bicycle against the flow of traffic.

47. Nov 14, 2009, Darryl Bain, 43

Coram, New York

Initial Complaint – Bain’s brother called police asking for help because Bain was high on cocaine.

48. Nov 16, 2009, Matthew Bolick, 30

East Grand Rapids, Michigan

Initial complaint – Bolick’s father called police because he was concerned about his son’s odd behavior.


Again, the law is clear. If a police officer reasonably believes that someone is about to use deadly force on him,  the police officer is permitted to use deadly force to protect himself. We, the armchair quarterbacks, are not permitted make the determination of what was on the police officer’s mind at the moment the action took place. Besides, the determination is not based on what a reasonable civilian would do, but what a reasonable police officer would do.

7 replies
  1. Helen Bellamy
    Helen Bellamy says:

    Another thoughtful, well-presented discourse. Thank you. I only hope our cities discount the hysterical cries and maintain the police presence society requires to protect a peaceful nation. As a mother whose child was a sworn officer, I understand how difficult it is to populate a police force with officers willing to face danger daily, and to continue to do so long enough to complete a fulfilling career.

  2. Chris
    Chris says:

    One of the problems with the current “police brutality” mania is that politicians, elected officials and the media seem all too eager to mollify the protesters without enough investigation. I’m sure many good officers are considering finding other employment.

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