Hoyt: The trial of Officer Rolfe in the death of Rayshard Brooks is a double-edged sword. Buckle up, America.

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The following contains editorial content written by a current staff writer for Law Enforcement Today. 

ATLANTA, GA – Those in law enforcement, and their supporters, have spent way too much time examining the case lodged against Derek Chauvin – and not enough time contemplating the ramifications of the trial of Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe.

The case against Officer Garrett Rolfe is truly a double-edged sword in the realm of potential case law, whether he’s found to be guilty or innocent in the murder of Rayshard Brooks.

The caveat of the case and trial against Minneapolis Police Officer Chauvin was that it wound up overshadowing a more critical case that has the propensity to adversely affect law enforcement on a state and national scale, in the realm of case law.

One has to keep in mind that the case formulated against Officer Chauvin in Minneapolis lived and died on the excessiveness of force in a very rudimentary sense – Officer Rolfe’s case is extremely different.

Officer Rolfe was dealing with not just an individual that was resisting arrest, but he was dealing with an individual that was actively combative.

But what makes the case all the more confusing, and bearing the elements of becoming future case law, was the indisputable fact that Rayshard Brooks used a Taser that was literally stolen from an officer trying to enact a lawful arrest.

Make no mistake: this case from Atlanta carries more propensity to becoming a citable piece of case law in future contentious cases than what happened in Minneapolis between George Floyd and Derek Chauvin.

George Floyd’s death will not create case law because it stems off of already existing interpretations of excessive force that just so happened to have of manifested into a murder. Officer Rolfe is new territory.

The trial against Officer Rolfe is one that only he can win or lose, but invariably damages the profession of policing based upon the parameters in which the case was erected.

To put it plainly: if Rolfe beats the charge, police are going to run into issues when utilizing their Taser.

If Rolfe is found guilty, this opens up the door to tacitly approve of attacking police officers and turning the process of arrest into a contest of champions.

So, I’ll explain why if Officer Rolfe beats the charges that it could pose issues associated with the less lethal use of Tasers.

When it comes to a criminal defense, it’s painfully obvious that Officer Rolfe’s defense will portray the scenario as Brooks being combative, resisting a lawful arrest, and then firing a Taser at Rolfe, which the officer perceived as a means to apply lethal force.

This is where the broader problem comes into play if Officer Rolfe is found innocent: we officially now have case law delineating that a Taser is emblematic of a deadly weapon.

I can assure you that if Rolfe is found innocent, this will be cited as case law for when an officer uses a Taser and something inexplicable happens and a suspect dies during an encounter/detention.

While I’m sure that Garrett Rolfe will be thrilled to have been cleared of a felony murder charge, we now have an issue associated with Tasers being defined as a deadly weapon.

One can only imagine in the realm of law enforcement what kind of issues that legal precedent can possibly pose.

I hope that you’re following along with the train of logic that I’m trying to convey and why this is the case that police officers need to be following with ardent passion – because no matter the verdict in this case, the profession of policing can change based upon what verdict is rendered.

Keep in mind that we already covered that if Officer Rolfe is found innocent then we now have to face the possibility that Tasers are now considered a deadly weapon, which is a standard less-lethal tool used by police officers.

[Editor’s note: Ideally, case law would be able to differentiate between the use of a Taser by a law enforcement officer enacting a legal arrest versus the potential arrestee stealing the officer’s Taser and attempting to use it against him. Currently it’s presumed that it’s reasonable for an officer to travel up the use of force options to a gun when a suspect pulls a less lethal weapon on him because the officer then has to consider what the suspect will do once the officer is incapacitated.

It’s reasonable, of course, for an officer to believe that the suspect will use the Taser to incapacitate the officer and then go a step further, such as stealing the officer’s gun to “finish the job.” This is where current case law rests. However, with cries of “police reform” being amplified across the nation, the author presents a fantastic argument for what we could see. An officer could have no right to protect himself from the nefarious intent of a suspect should case law deem a specific tool “less lethal” for both suspect and officer.

This is a dangerous road we are heading down, America.]

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But what happens if he’s found guilty?

That’s a problem where I’m not even sure if it’s better or worse than the aforementioned, because if Garrett Rolfe is found guilty, then that almost serves as a form of case law that tacitly approves the conduct that Brooks engaged in that led to his death.

Keep in mind that Brooks wasn’t someone that passively resisted arrest; he decided to throw punches at two police officers, disarm one of them of their Taser and then fired it at them.

If Officer Rolfe is found guilty of felony murder, then that means everything that Brooks engaged in does not afford the opportunity for a police officer or anybody to protect their life based upon those circumstances.

Here’s the thing that people have to keep in mind: someone crazy enough to fight a cop is crazy enough to kill a cop.

No normal person thinks that it is at all appropriate to fight police officers; most people realize that there is a heavy sense of depraved indifference to try to harm any form of civil servant.

However, if Rolfe is found guilty, then police have quite a big problem on their hands when it comes to subduing suspects, because now an arrest is a battle of sorts that can play out with almost little to no consequences associated with the aggressor that is supposed to submit to arrest.

This is literally one of the most important current cases that nobody is paying attention to. The nuance associated with the outcome of this case is critical.

Police officers, law enforcement unions, and legal experts that are pro-police need to be heavily invested into this case so as to examine and dissect any possible aspect that can shield law enforcement from enacting their duties, no matter the verdict rendered.

What I mean by that is that if Rolfe is found guilty then they need to ascertain how the profession of policing can be protected moving forward.

However, if Rolfe is found innocent, then pundits in the legal realm need to start examining how officer-involved uses of force moving forward will not be deemed lethal in the event that a Taser is used.

I’ve been around the block and have studied a lot of case law and I know when we’re dealing with a landmark case: and this is one of them.

While this case may not have the gravitas of a George Floyd or Breonna Taylor in the media, this is an important case, and it requires attention from legal experts and those in law enforcement.

This is going to be one of those cases where no matter what the outcome is – while I hope the proper verdict is reached – the outcome will pose numerous complications for police work and police officers moving forward.

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