Newell: DA in Rayshard Brooks case should recuse himself

Anyone unwilling to spend political capital on doing the right thing can't lead

Newell Normand
June 19, 2020 - 6:56 pm

There’s a question going around this week asking if “Blue Flu” is going to be the new pandemic, referring to police officers calling in sick or otherwise not showing up for work. I said early on this month that this would continue to reveal itself, and I was right - and it’s revealing itself in an increasingly ugly manner.

In the case of Rayshard Brooks, Paul Howard, the District Attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, said recently that a taser was a less-than-lethal weapon, and therefore the officer who shot Brooks couldn’t possibly have thought his life was in danger. But in Howard’s remarks about the case of the two college students dragged from their car by officers after having been tased, he said that under Georgia law, the taser is considered a deadly weapon. So which is it? Obviously, the answer is whatever best fits the outcome that he desires. This case is going to have significant problems, since you have the prosecutor saying the taser is a deadly weapon, and then retreating on that position in a follow up case.

Howard is in trouble, locked into a heated election with one of his former employees. In the first primary, Howard ran second to Fani Willis, who got 42% to his 35%. The runoff is August 11th, and it just so happens that Howard is also under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for allegedly taking $140,000 in Atlanta tax payer money to supplement his salary though a non-profit he runs. In Brooks’ case, he bypasses the GBI, which has the authority to investigate police shootings. They have not issued a report in the case, but he allowed one of the DA’s investigators to handle this case, and that led to charges being filed. 

RELATED: Atlanta D.A. Howard says he's received death threats

So what does this tell us? Howard is currently under investigation by the GBI. Ovisoouly, he doesn't want to defer to them in the Brooks case, because that wouldn't look good for his campaign, wherein he is trashing the GBI and questioning the time of their investigation. He can’t give them any credibility, so he completely circumvents them instead.

What’s the right thing to do? He should recuse himself. But if he does that, he can’t help himself politically. Meanwhile, the police officers sitting in the stands of this three ring circus while all this finger-pointing goes on about who is a state witness and who isn’t, and all the mistakes Howard is making seem to all be breaking his way, to his benefit, making it seem as though his investigation is intact. Do you get the feeling that this is getting a little icky? A little sticky?

And we wonder why officers are resigning, not showing up, not willing to put themselves at risk, for fear that they might actually be confronted by a perpetrator with a gun? As one Atlanta police officer said, “We’re one bullet away from being killed, and one shot away from being indicted.” That’s not a good position to be in. The men and women of these organizations have kids and families - why should they put themselves at risk?

Meanwhile, the Mayor there, who is lobbying to be Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential nominee, is trying to play all sides against the middle. This is the classic example of the power of political capital - using it in a positive way or negative way, and the only thing I can tell you is that if you elect leaders who aren’t willing to consume political capital to do the right thing, you end up with idiots, with a bastardized system of government that doesn’t work for anybody.

If you can’t find it in yourself to work with the GBI, the investigative body charged with investigating this matter, why would you move forward on your own? Recuse yourself! Hand it over to the State Attorney General! That’s the right thing to do. I'm sure Howard has constituents who wouldn’t like that, but those are the kinds of moves credible leaders make. 

RELATED: Atlanta Police Chief Resigns After Law Enforcement Fatally Shoots Black Man

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