Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she has accepted the resignation of Police Chief Erika Shields following the June 12 officer-involved shooting that took the life of Rayshard Brooks.
Bottoms made the announcement at a press conference held at City Hall on June 13. Bottoms said the officer’s use of deadly force against Brooks, 27, was not justified and called for his immediate termination.
Brooks was being investigated for a DUI after complaints he was asleep in his car blocking the drive-thru lane of a Wendy’s restaurant on University Avenue around 10:30 p.m. After a tussle with police over a Taser, Brooks was shot and killed.
While Bottoms praised the dedication of the officers of the Atlanta Police Department, she said “there has been a disconnect between officers and the communities they protect.”
Bottoms said Shields has been a “solid member of APD for two decades” and will remain with the force in a role to be determined.
“Chief Shields and I believe Atlanta can be a model of meaningful police reform,” Bottoms said. She said Shield’s stepping aside would allow the city to “move forward with urgency to rebuild trust throughout our communities.”
Former assistant police Chief Rodney Bryant will serve as the interim chief while the city launches a national search for new leadership, Bottoms said.
“The service and sacrifice of APD’s officers is not lost upon me, and I remain grateful for the work that you do to keep our city safe,” Bottoms said. “But as Dr. King reminded us many years ago, there is a fierce urgency of now that calls upon each of us, myself included, to be held accountable to the communities in which we are entrusted to serve.”
“For more than two decades, I have served alongside some of the finest women and men in the Atlanta Police Department,” said Shields in a written statement. “Out of a deep and abiding love for this city and this department, I offered to step aside as police chief. APD has my full support, and Mayor Bottoms has my support on the future direction of this department. I have faith in the mayor, and it is time for the city to move forward and build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Bottoms said she had convened an advisory council to review the APD’s use of deadly force policy and recommendations would be forthcoming soon.
Bottoms said to the family of Brooks that she was ” sincerely sorry for your loss” and hoped they would take some comfort in the “swift action taken today” and the meaningful reform to come.
Shields has been a popular figure among some Buckhead community groups and leaders, as evidenced in a mayoral town hall there last year where Bottoms was booed while the police chief was applauded.
City Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit, who represents Buckhead’s District 8, praised Shields in a brief comment about her resignation.
“I have a ton of respect for Chief Shields,” said Matzigkeit. “She’s a great cop. I’m sorry to see her leave and appreciate everything she has done for the city.”
Councilmember Howard Shook, who represents Buckhead’s District 7, declined to comment.
Shields was appointed chief in 2016 and was the city’s first openly gay police chief.
During the recent protests over the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Shields’ response initially drew some praise but increasing criticism and scrutiny. She won attention for attending an early protest and expressed empathy about lack of reforms. But claims from her and Bottoms that protests involved outsiders did not hold up, and a violent APD arrest of two college students led the mayor to fire four officers while Shields complained about criminal charges filed in the case.
–John Ruch contributed