News and Commentary

WATCH: Black Georgia Sheriff Tells CNN: Shooting Of Rayshard Brooks Was ‘Completely Justified’

On Tuesday, a black Georgia sheriff told CNN anchor Brianna Keilar that Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe was “completely justified” to use lethal force against Rayshard Brooks, who was shot and killed after resisting arrest and grabbing a taser from an officer at the scene.

Keilar started, “The family attorney in this case says that police should have tried to catch Brooks instead of shooting at him. What is your reaction to that?”

Sheriff Alfonzo Williams responded, “Having 30 years in the business, police and law enforcement, and 27 of those years having taught use of force and taught hundreds and hundreds of law enforcement officers across the state of Georgia and other states, I just think that he’s a lawyer, he’s not a law enforcement officer. I think that is — it’s just a ridiculous statement.”

He continued, “Obviously, we saw in the video that the — Brooks was engaged in a fight with the officers. They were on the ground. We know that when we’re on the ground, we have a very high likelihood of being hurt or killed. It’s not the place we want to be. This is not a wrestling match. Brooks is able to take a nonlethal weapon, a taser, away from one of the officers, and he flees, they give chase. He’s committed two felony obstruction of an officer counts, and he needs to be held accountable. So they were perfectly justified in running behind Brooks to capture him.”

Williams noted, “Brooks turned back to the officers, and fired the taser. And we all know — this is the third law enforcement agency I’ve been head of, and every agency I’ve gone to, I’ve required every officer who carries a taser, to be tased with it so that you understand the incapacitation.”

He explained, “Five seconds: one thousand-one, one thousand-two, one thousand-three, one thousand-four, one thousand-five. That’s five whole seconds that, if an officer is hit with that taser, that he — all of his muscles will be locked up and he’ll have the inability to move and to respond. And yet he is still responsible for every weapon on his belt. So if that officer had been hit, he still has a firearm on his side. And the likelihood of him being stomped in the head or having his firearm taken and used against him was a probability. And so he did what he needed to do, and this was a completely justified shooting.”

Keilar asked, “So you think lethal force here was necessary?”

“It’s very necessary,” Williams said. “The Fourth Amendment allows it. This is the objective reasonableness standard, and there’s nothing malicious or sadistic in the way these officers behaved.”

Then he took a shot at law enforcement leaders in Georgia: “And it’s very unfortunate that the law enforcement leaders in the state of Georgia have not come out and stood together on this case. I think it’s political and it’s senseless. We’re sending the wrong message to our black youth, we’re telling them that it’s OK, that they can run from the police, they can take a weapon from the police, they can fight with the police. And point a weapon at the police, and expect nothing to happen. That is the wrong message to send to black youth.”

Keilar then tried to turn the death of Brooks into a racial issue: “Can I ask — I want to ask you a question about the Rayshard Brooks case, early on, once he was on the ground. One of the things that struck me, observing — and you know, you’re in law enforcement, I’m not, but — was how quickly at close range one of the officers pulled a taser out. And it seemed like his arm was flailing, and then he sort of got tangled and grabbed the taser.  And I — one of the questions I had was, do you think that that officer would have pulled a taser so quickly on a suspect if they were white?”

Williams answered, “I think we have a serious issue in this country with officers, law enforcement officers using force against black persons or persons of color versus other persons. I’m not sure exactly why that exists. I think it’s based on your experiences, based on your ignorance, based on your — whether or not you’re learned, based on movies, television, media.  You know, there’s a little bit of blame to go around with all of us. That’s why I have proposed setting standards —”

Keilar interjected, “Sheriff. You’re — it sounds like you don’t know, like — it sounds like you are saying perhaps, there could be a possibility that maybe — that escalation to the use of the taser might not have happened then, if it were a white man?”

Williams immediately shut that down, saying, “I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying what happened in the Brooks case is completely justified, 100 percent. And an officer generally goes to work every day, he’s not concerned about whether a perpetrator is black or white. He’s there to do a job. He was called there by the employees of Wendy’s because the guy is passed out at the wheel. And he’s investigated for being under the influence of something, but he is less safe to drive. And they conduct field sobriety. And all officers know this, Brianna, that when one cuff goes on, a person is going to do one of three things. He’s going to fight, take flight, or he’s going to comply. In this case, he did fight and flight. And we — they’re taught in the academy that you arrest or you handcuff quickly, one to two seconds. If not, your life is in jeopardy. And that played out in this scenario.”

He concluded, “We don’t want to fight with anybody; we don’t want to be on the ground. The suspect had the ability to hurt the officer, he had the opportunity to hurt the officer because he took his taser. The officer’s life was certainly in jeopardy, and the suspect could have complied and none of this would have happened.”

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