Senate Bill 217 reached Gov. Jared Polis' desk, and he signed it yesterday. The depth of changes in this bill is unprecedented. Among the changes that are set to be enacted starting on Sept. 1, 2020, is that officers are not to use deadly force to apprehend a person who is suspected of a minor or non-violent offense.
When reviewing the case of the Atlanta Police shooting of Rayshard Brooks via the timeline posted by the New York Times, it’s clear police were called to a Wendy's restaurant because Brooks fell asleep in his car in the drive-thru lane. Officers (Rolfe and Bronson) encountered Brooks and engaged in a conversation with him and suspected him of being intoxicated. Rolfe — the senior officer — searched him, with his permission, for weapons, and there were none on his person.
Brooks then, after a lengthy discussion, agreed to a field sobriety test and breath test. He failed both. He told the officers his sister lived nearby and that he could walk to her home under their supervision. After a lengthy discussion Rolfe attempted to take Brooks into custody. He resisted.
The two officers wrestled Brooks to the ground, and Brooks struck Rolfe in the head and took Bronson's Taser. Rolfe fired his Taser, the darts struck Brooks. Rolfe continued to attempt to stun him, but Brooks ran away. In the pursuit, Rolfe passed his Taser to his left hand and pulled his service weapon.
While this happened, Brooks turned while running and fired the Taser gun. He missed. Rolfe shot at Brooks three times, striking him in the back twice. Brooks was mortally wounded.
When I read Senate Bill 217 and read the NYT story, I don't know if the provisions in the bill would actually prevent what happened in the Atlanta case. It should. But when Brooks struck Rolfe and took Bronson's Taser gun, I'm sure adrenaline and some panic set in. But taking everything into consideration, Rolfe knew Brooks was only armed with a Taser, which he discharged. They had his vehicle and identified him. He told them his sister lived nearby. The use of deadly force was unnecessary and excessive. Rolfe was immediately fired and the Atlanta Chief of Police resigned. The Wendy's restaurant was set on fire and protests escalated.
But it's easy to play armchair quarterback. I'm not going to pretend to know what it's like to be in law enforcement and have someone resist arrest, then everything escalates.
Seemingly Brooks did not pose a threat to the public. What would have happened if the officers had taken Brooks to his sister's house? Likely they would have arranged to have an officer pick him up the next morning when he was sober or issued a ticket the next morning. I'm sure none of that is protocol, but if this were an option, the situation more than likely would not have escalated.
The bill has received wide support from legislators, law enforcement and prosecutors. But the proof will come in the training of officers to help them understand that an escalated situation like the one in Atlanta shouldn't end with a deadly shooting. Much like when a high speed chase is halted when the public is in danger, police should weigh the risks. The Brooks incident could happen anywhere.
Good for the Colorado Legislatures for passing this bill. And though it happened in short order, it took years — and a lot of cooperation — to get there.