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Family members decry police killing of Rayshard Brooks, call for reform

Tomika Miller, the wife of Rayshard Brooks, and their daughter Memory, 2, during the family press conference Monday,  in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Tomika Miller, the wife of Rayshard Brooks, and their daughter Memory, 2, during the family press conference Monday, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Family members of Rayshard Brooks — the 27-year-old black man who was fatally shot by police outside an Atlanta Wendy’s last week — decried his killing as they called for law enforcement reform during an emotional news conference on Monday.

Brooks’ cousins and widow and his family’s attorneys stepped up to a microphone to describe how Brooks’ death had upended their lives and how, even if it helped fuel needed reform at police departments across the country, that would not bring Brooks back. They described Brooks as a loving husband and father who was always happy.

‘‘The trust that we have with the police force is broken, and the only way to heal some of these wounds is through a conviction and a drastic change with the police department,’’ said Tiara Brooks, one of Rayshard Brooks’ cousins.

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‘‘But honestly,’’ she added, ‘‘true justice will never prevail because we will never be able to bring back Rayshard Brooks.’’

Brooks was shot to death on Friday in the parking lot outside a Wendy’s in an incident that began with police investigating a complaint about a man who had fallen asleep in a car parked in the drive-through, according to a preliminary report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. What ensued was a violent confrontation, captured on multiple videos, that would add fuel to protests roiling the nation over police use of excessive force on black people.

The officers found Brooks in the car and gave him a sobriety test. After he failed, they tried to take him into custody. That sparked a wrestling match between Brooks and the two officers, and Brooks ultimately was able to take an officer’s Taser and run away.

The officers gave chase, with one aiming his Taser at Brooks, and Brooks turning and aiming the stolen stun gun in the officer’s direction. The other officer then fired his handgun, fatally wounding Brooks, according to a video.

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Hours later, Atlanta police chief Erika Shields resigned.

America had already been reeling from the death of George Floyd at police hands in Minneapolis — an incident in which an officer was captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes as Floyd gasped, ‘‘I can’t breathe.’’

Brooks’ killing sparked a new round of demonstrations and unrest in Atlanta. On Saturday, Erika Shields, the city’s police chief, resigned, and the Wendy’s where the killing took place was set on fire. On Monday morning, a crowd of roughly 1,000 people was demonstrating outside the state capitol.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, whose office is weighing whether to charge the officers involved in the case, has said he is still trying to obtain all the police body camera and dash camera footage of the shooting, and he hopes to announce a decision in the middle of this week. The officer who fired the shots, Garrett Rolfe, has been fired from his job; the other officer, Devin Brosnan, has been pulled from street patrols.

‘‘How many more protests will it take to ensure that the next victim isn’t your cousin, your brother, your uncle, your nephew, your friend, or your companion?’’ Tiara Brooks asked at the family news conference.

Charity Evans, another of Brooks’ cousins, said her family had backed the Atlanta police department some weeks ago, when demonstrations over Floyd’s death turned violent. Now, she said, ‘‘those same police took something away from my family that we’ll never get back.’’

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‘‘Not only are we hurt, we are angry,’’ Evans said. ‘‘When does this stop? We’re not only pleading for justice. We’re pleading for change.’’

Attorney L. Chris Stewart, who is representing Brooks’ family, said the shooting ‘‘cannot be justified,’’ and noted that the confrontation could have ended if the officers simply granted Brooks’ request to walk to his sister’s home nearby.

‘‘Where is the empathy in just letting him walk home?’’ Stewart said. ‘‘What we know right now is that a man’s life was taken when it should never have happened.’’

Tomika Miller, Brooks’ widow, said Brooks died on his daughter’s 8th birthday. The girl, she said, was supposed to later go skating with her dad.

‘‘There is no justice that can ever make me feel happy about what’s been done,’’ she said. She also called on protesters to remain nonviolent.

‘‘If you could just keep it as a peaceful protest, that would be wonderful,’’ she said.

In her 3 1/2 years as Atlanta police chief, Shields appeared to have struck a balance rare in American law enforcement. Known as a staunch ally of police officers who worked closely with unions, Shields simultaneously championed progressive policies such as levying lengthy suspensions in use-of-force incidents and mandating that body cameras be on at all times.

Shields said in a statement that she stepped aside ‘‘for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.’’

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Shields, who was one of the first American police chiefs to walk with protesters after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, is described by allies as one of the most liberal law enforcement leaders in the country, a force for transparency in policing and reducing the use of force.

Shields is the second police chief to no longer be on the job amid calls for police policy changes after Floyd’s death. Louisville, Ky., Police Chief Steve Conrad’s employment was terminated this month after police killed the owner of a barbecue restaurant. Conrad had been criticized since Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot and killed after police entered her apartment on a no-knock warrant in March.