Late on Wednesday, a decision was handed down by Atlanta’s Civil Service Board ordering the reinstatement of fired Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe. Rolfe was terminated on June 13, 2020, after he fatally shot Rayshard Brooks when Brooks turned and fired a Taser at Officer Rolfe who was chasing him through the parking lot of a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. Rolfe was later charged with second-degree murder by the Fulton County District Attorney on the basis that the Taser fired at Rolfe by Brooks was not a dangerous weapon, and Rolfes’ response with deadly force was a criminal act under Georgia law.
I wrote extensively about the shooting of Brooks last year. You can find a detailed account of the events leading up to and including the shooting in these two stories:
What happened in Atlanta today is not connected to the criminal charges, which remain pending against Rolfe.
Rather, today’s decision involves Rolfe’s appeal of his summary termination by then Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields. As the decision recounts, in the late-night hours of June 12, 2020, the encounter between Brooks and two Atlanta Police Officers took place in the parking lot of Wendy’s.
After the fatal shooting, during the day on June 13, 2020, and under a fear that the city was going to erupt in violence that night, Assistant Police Chief Todd Coyt signed a Notice of Proposed Adverse Action (NPAA) on behalf of the APD, recommending “Dismissal” because the Rolfe’s actions deemed contrary to and in violation of APD prohibiting the use of “Unnecessary Force.”
The NPAA stated that Rolfe had until 4:45 pm that same day to file a response to the NPAA. The proposed effective date of the discipline was set for June 14, 2020.
The Notice of Final Adverse Action (NFAA) was signed by the Assistant Police Chief on June 13, 2020.
Rolfe’s union representative erroneously “acknowledged” that Rolfe received copies of both the NPAA and NFAA on “June 11, 2020” — two days prior to the incident.
Rolfe had seven years of employment experience with the Atlanta Police Department and was no longer a probationary employee. As such, Rolfe was entitled to 10 days’ notice before an NPAA could become an NFAA under the Atlanta City Code protecting city employees, and Rolfe was entitled to file a response to the NPAA within that 10 day period.
Because Rolfe’s termination was effective as of June 14, 2020, he was denied both the 10 days notice and the opportunity to file a response to the proposed termination.
There is a provision in the Code for “immediate” termination under “emergency circumstances”. But even that provision requires that the terminated employee be given an opportunity within five days of the effective date of termination to file a response to the Emergency Action. The City of Atlanta was unable to document that Rolfe was ever advised of his rights in this regard, and the NFAA had checked both the “Yes” and “No” boxes with regard to whether an “emergency circumstance” justified immediate termination.
Sergeant William Dean, an APD veteran of twenty-five years and currently assigned to the Internal Affairs Advocacy Unit of Internal Affair, testified that the Appellant’s dismissal seemed rushed and sufficient time was not provided for the Appellant to submit a response…. Sergeant Dean testified that different arrangements could have been made to present the NPAA and NFAA to the Appellant, while offering him an opportunity to respond to the City’s actions as permitted by the Code. He further stated that the hurried dismissal may have been due in part, to a press conference that was on the horizon. Finally, Sergeant Dean testified that during his tenure in Internal Affairs, he was unaware of any employment termination of an APD officer for alleged firearms infractions without APD having first conducted the requisite investigations.
The relief given to Officer Rolfe is that he has been reinstated to the Atlanta Police Department, although he remains suspended.
Further, he was awarded full back pay going back to June 14, 2020.
The criminal charges remain pending against him.