ATLANTA (AP) — Challenger Fani Willis on Tuesday defeated her former boss in the Democratic primary runoff for district attorney of Georgia's most populous county.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard was the first African American district attorney elected in Georgia when he took office in 1997 and faced no election opponents until he drew two challengers in the June primary. He was forced into a runoff after coming in second to Willis, who had worked in his office for 16 years.
With no Republican qualified for the general election, Willis will run unopposed in November. Fulton County includes most of Atlanta.
“They want a district attorney who can bring justice to everyone in Fulton County,” Willis told supporters. “They want a district attorney who will make decisions that are in the interest of the public.”
Howard told reporters that he would work with Willis for a smooth transition and said he wouldn't have done anything different.
“I can't say I have any regrets about the things we have done,” Howard said.
The primary took place as protests over racial injustice and police brutality shook the nation. Howard was quick to charge officers accused of using excessive force against Black people in two incidents in recent months.
Atlanta police in mid-June responded to a report of a man sleeping in a car in a Wendy’s drive-thru. After about 40 minutes of calm conversation, Rayshard Brooks resisted when officers tried to arrest him. He struggled with officers and fired a Taser at one of them as he fled, and the officer fatally shot him. Five days later, Howard brought charges against the two officers.
Two weeks earlier, Howard had announced charges against six officers after dramatic video showed police using Tasers on two college students and pulling them from their car as they were caught in traffic caused by protests.
The victims, their attorneys and some activists applauded Howard's quick action. But police and other critics accused him of rushing charges for political gain and making false and inflammatory statements at news conferences.
He also faced allegations of misconduct. Three past or present female employees have filed lawsuits alleging harassment or discrimination. In addition, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the legality of a salary supplement he received from the city of Atlanta that was administered through one of two nonprofit organizations he controlled. He agreed to pay a state ethics fine last week for failing to note on financial disclosure forms that he headed the organizations. The GBI is also investigating whether he improperly issued subpoenas after Brooks' killing.
“People have said public servants should ... serve the public,” Willis said. “They should not serve their own interests.”
Willis raised more money than her former boss and won key endorsements. During the campaign, she said her priorities would include putting more resources into investigating cases prior to making charging decisions, implementing pre-indictment diversion programs, putting more prosecutors in courtrooms and increasing transparency in police use-of-force cases.