Atlanta police advocates say district attorney needs to be clear on Taser policy

Frustrated police officers in Georgia are claiming that state and local rules have subjected them to a dangerous double standard when it comes to using Tasers -- one that could put their lives on the line and their careers in jeopardy.

Atlanta police union representative Ken Allen earlier this month told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that if Tasers are used by the police, they are often considered a weapon, but if a Taser is used by a suspect against a police officer, it isn't viewed as a threat.

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On Wednesday, Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. charged former Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe with felony murder, aggravated assault and other offenses in the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.

Howard said that Brooks' killing was unjustified and he posed no threat to Rolfe and Officer Devin Bronsan when they responded to a complaint Friday about a man asleep in the drive-thru of a Wendy's on the southside of Atlanta.

In video footage of the incident, the officers are seen giving Brooks a sobriety test after he moved his vehicle to a parking spot and hit several bushes along the way. The officers decided to take him into custody but Brooks resisted. A parking lot scuffle followed where the officers attempted to restrain and tase Brooks. Brooks grabbed one of the officer's Tasers, pointed it at Rolfe before he took off running. Rolfe is seen on the video drawing his weapon and shooting Brooks in the back twice.

The video of the incident coupled with the recent nationwide protests over police brutality and systemic racism prompted multiple protests in Atlanta and around the country on behalf of Brooks.

Fulton County, Ga. District Attorney Paul Howard faces a tough primary fight and a criminal investigation as he leads the prosecution of Garrett Rolfe.

Fulton County, Ga. District Attorney Paul Howard faces a tough primary fight and a criminal investigation as he leads the prosecution of Garrett Rolfe. (Office of the Fulton County District Attorney)

"We've concluded that at the time Mr. Brooks was shot, he did not pose an imminent threat of serious injury to the officers," Howard said at the news conference Wednesday afternoon.

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Howard said video evidence, as well as statements from at least 10 witnesses, showed that Rolfe allegedly ignored his training and department policies when Brooks attempted to run from him. He said Rolfe opened fire multiple times in a crowded parking lot and sent a bullet into a nearby car occupied by three people.

Georgia law dictates that a person can use deadly force "only if he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or a third person."

The Atlanta Police Department policy manual states officers can use deadly force if they believe that the suspect "possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device or instrument, which used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury when he or she reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or others."

On just the use of the Taser alone, Rolfe's attorneys could argue that he thought his life was in immediate danger when Brooks raised the gun toward his head and that Rolfe responded reasonably, since a Taser, though less lethal than a firearm, can be fatal in some circumstances.

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Howard dismissed the argument and pointed to other alleged mistakes Rolfe and Bronson made for why they were charged in Brooks' death but police officers on the ground say policy over the use of Tasers contradicts itself -- as does the man elected to prosecute cases in Fulton County.

Earlier this month, however, Howard actually charged six Atlanta police officers after dramatic video footage surfaced of them pulling two college students from a car and shooting them with a Taser while they were stuck in traffic over protests of Floyd's death.

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"I feel a little safer now that these monsters are off of the street and no longer able to terrorize anyone else," said 22-year-old Messiah Young, who was dragged from the vehicle along with his girlfriend, 20-year-old Taniyah Pilgrim.