(Reuters) – Protesters shut down a major highway in Atlanta on Saturday and burned down a Wendy’s restaurant where a black man was shot dead by police as he tried to escape arrest, an incident likely to fuel more nationwide tensions over race and police tactics.
The restaurant was in flames for more than 45 minutes before fire crews arrived to extinguish the blaze, protected by a line of police officers, local television showed. By that time the building was reduced to charred rubble next to a gas station.
Other demonstrators marched onto Interstate-75, stopping traffic, before police used a line of squad cars to hold them back.
The city’s police chief, Erika Shields, resigned earlier on Saturday over the shooting on Friday night of 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks, which was captured on video.
The police department has fired the officer who allegedly shot and killed Brooks, police spokesman Carlos Campos said late on Saturday. Another officer involved in the incident was put on administrative leave. Both of the officers were white.
Brooks’ death followed weeks of demonstrations in major cities across the United States sparked by the death of George Floyd, an African American who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while detaining him.
The Atlanta officer fired after Friday’s incident was identified by the police department as Garrett Rolfe, who joined the department in October 2013. The officer placed on administrative duty is Devin Bronsan, who was hired in September 2018.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she had accepted the prompt resignation of police chief Shields.
“I do not believe that this was a justified use of deadly force and have called for the immediate termination of the officer,” Bottoms said at an afternoon news conference.
Brooks was the father of a young daughter who was celebrating her birthday on Saturday, his lawyers said.
Near the scene of the shooting, street protests began on Saturday, with more than 100 people calling for the officers to be charged criminally in the case.
Friday’s shooting came after police were called to the Wendy’s over reports that Brooks had fallen asleep in the drive-thru line. Officers attempted to take him into custody after he failed a field sobriety test, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
A bystander’s video showed Brooks struggling with two officers on the ground outside the Wendy’s before breaking free and running across the parking lot with what appears to be a police TASER in his hand.
A second videotape from the restaurant’s cameras shows Brooks turning as he runs and possibly aiming the TASER at the pursuing officers before one of them fires his gun and Brooks falls to the ground.
Brooks ran the length of about six cars when he turned back toward an officer and pointed what he had in his hand at the policeman, Vic Reynolds, director of the GBI, told a press conference.
“At that point, the Atlanta officer reaches down and retrieves his weapon from his holster, discharges it, strikes Mr. Brooks there on the parking lot and he goes down,” Reynolds said.
Lawyers representing the family of Brooks told reporters that Atlanta police had no right to use deadly force even if he had fired the TASER, a non-lethal weapon, in their direction.
“You can’t shoot somebody unless they are pointing a gun at you,” attorney Chris Stewart said.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, Jr., said in an emailed statement that his office “has already launched an intense, independent investigation of the incident” while it awaits the findings of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Bottoms said Shields, a white woman appointed police chief in December 2016, would be replaced by deputy chief Rodney Bryant, a black man who will serve as interim chief.
Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gregorio, Sam Holmes, Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry