The Fulton County, Ga. district attorney who charged fired former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder -- an offense that can carry the death penalty -- is facing a criminal investigation and a primary runoff in a difficult fight to remain in office after his challenger secured more votes than he did in the June 9 primary.
Fani Willis, who previously worked for Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, got 42 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary to Howard's 35 percent, triggering a runoff that will happen on Aug. 11. Willis' campaign has hammered a message of "integrity, innovation & inclusiveness," and she has amplified accusations of corrupt dealings by Howard with his nonprofit organization.
Howard, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is under criminal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for allegedly taking at least $140,000 in Atlanta taxpayer dollars to supplement his salary through his nonprofit.
"ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!" Willis tweeted last week, linking to a story about the investigation into Howard. "THE CITIZENS OF FULTON COUNTY DESERVE BETTER!"
Howard, according to the AJC, predicted he would be cleared of the allegations against him, calling them an "administrative matter." He also noted the timing of the investigation ahead of the June 9 primary, according to the AJC, saying it "is not lost on me."
In the midst of the tough election fight and allegations against him, Howard on Wednesday announced severe charges against Rolfe, who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks during a DUI stop that went horribly wrong. During the June 12 incident, a scuffle broke out, and Brooks ran with one of two responding officers' Tasers leading up to the shooting.
Rolfe faces 11 charges including, felony murder, which could potentially lead to the death penalty, and a second officer, Devin Brosnan, is facing three charges, including aggravated assault.
"We've concluded, at the time Mr. Brooks was shot, that he did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or officers," Howard said at the news conference Wednesday.
"For 41 minutes and 17 seconds, he followed their instruction, he answered the questions," Howard said of Brooks. He also noted Brooks "was never informed that he was under arrest... this is a requirement of the Atlanta Police Department."
Howard added: "At the time that the shot was fired, the utterance made by Officer Rolfe was 'I got him' that was the statement that was made at that time... The city of Atlanta says you cannot even fire a Taser at someone who is running away, so you certainly can't fire a gun, a handgun, at someone who is running away."
But some have said that the nature of the events leading up to the shooting of Brooks -- a scuffle and Brooks stealing an officer's Taser -- makes felony murder too high of a charge against Rolfe, and suggested that the decision could be politically motivated at a time when police conduct is under a microscope and dominating headlines.
"Charging an Atlanta police officer with felony murder before the completion of the GBI's investigation was a political decision, not a legal one," Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., said in a statement Thursday. "I’m calling on Attorney General Chris Carr to appoint an independent district attorney in the case of Rayshard Brooks to ensure Georgians have complete confidence that this case is devoid of any and all political influence. If a special prosecutor was warranted in the Ahmaud Arbery case, then it certainly warrants the appointment of one here."
Collins was referring to the Wednesday statement, in the wake of Howard's press conference, by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that it had not been informed of the DA's decision to charge the officers.
"Although we have made significant progress in the case, we have not completed our work. Our goal in every officer involved shooting case we are requested to review, is to complete a thorough, impartial investigation before we submit the file to the respective District Attorney’s Office," the state law enforcement office said. "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."
Others have also said Howard's move to charge the officers before a complete law enforcement investigation, and with such weighty charges, is unusual.
Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano said Thursday that Howard's charge was a "catastrophic mistake" and "grossly inflated."
"Look, if there's a jury trial, here's what the judge is going to say to the jurors before they start deliberating. If that police officer reasonably believed that Mr. Brooks was using or was about to use deadly force on him, the police officer, then the police officer is permitted to use deadly force to protect himself," he said. "Secondly, the determination of what was in the police officer's mind is not what a reasonable civilian would do, but what a reasonable police officer would do."
Ted Williams, a former Washington, D.C. police detective and a Fox News contributor, said Wednesday the charges are "unfortunately and sadly, a miscarriage of justice."
"First of all, I believe that the [Fulton County] DA here, Paul Howard, overcharged officer Rolfe in regards to this very sad death of Mr. Brooks," Williams said. "I've heard all this crap about a Taser is not a deadly weapon. As a lawyer, I can tell you, I am representing two people against police officers who have used tasers. And those two people that I am representing died. They died as a result of being tased. A taser is a weapon. A taser can be a dangerous weapon."
Williams added: "This is a rush to judgment."
Jason Segura, the president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 623, told Fox News that Atlanta officers were calling out, quitting or transferring to other jurisdictions after the charges were announced. The Atlanta Police Department said reports of mass resignations of officers were not true, but that it was "experiencing a higher than usual number of call outs with the incoming shift."
Segura also accused Howard of having political motives in his handling of the case.
But others have taken a stronger stance against Rolfe, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
"We saw the worst happen on Friday night with Mr. Brooks. It angered me and it saddened me beyond words," Lance Bottoms said as she was announcing police reforms this week in the wake of Brooks' death.
"I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force and have called for the immediate termination of the officer,” she previously said, as she announced the resignation of former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields following the shooting.
"For more than two decades, I have served alongside some of the finest men and women in the Atlanta Police Department [APD]," Shields said later in the day. "Out of a deep and abiding love for this City and this department, I offered to step aside as police chief. APD has my full support, and Mayor Bottoms has my support on the future direction of this department. I have faith in the Mayor, and it is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve."
And Brooks' widow, Tomika Miller, with whom he had four children, said that learning about her husband’s fate “hurt really bad.”
“I felt everything that he felt just by hearing what he went through,” she said.
Family attorney Justin Miller said that the charges leveled by Howard Wednesday are “step one” and that step two would be “convictions on all charges.”
Police conduct and treatment of black Americans have been at the forefront of the American consciousness in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. An officer who used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground by his neck for nearly nine minutes has been charged with second-degree murder in that case, and others who were present were hit with charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Floyd's death triggered massive protests nationwide, which sometimes turned into violent riots in the early days. Showing the political force behind the anger, it has also ignited calls for policy changes and has spurred both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to work on legislation aimed at police reform. President Trump announced several initiatives aimed at improving policing through an executive order earlier this week.
Some proposed changes on the local level have been far more radical than even the most drastic ideas discussed on the federal level. A veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council has begun work on an effort to completely dismantle the city's police department.
Fox News' Michael Ruiz, Sam Dorman, Louis Casiano, Julia Musto and Charles Creitz contributed to this report.