Two Atlanta police officers have been terminated for violating the department’s excessive force policy for their role in the use of a stun gun and other force against two college students during a protest.
Three other officers were placed on desk duty pending further investigation. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made the announcement during a press conference Sunday.
“After review of that footage, Chief [Erika] Shields and I have made the determination that two of the officers involved in the incident last night will be terminated immediately,” the mayor said.
Shields also spoke at the press conference, echoing the mayor’s comments. She also commended other members of the Atlanta Police Department and other law enforcement agencies on the job they’ve done thus far, acknowledging the challenges they’ve faced.
“We have been handed an enormous obstacle and have by and large, done it as well as we could in the space that we’re being afforded,” Shields said. “It’s an unpleasant space to be in, but that does not relieve us of our responsibilities. And we have a responsibility, when we handle any incident, to not escalate the incident and not cause further harm or injury.”
CBS46 cameras captured the incident live on television when Messiah Young, 22, and Teniyah Pilgrim, 20, were taken into custody after the 9 p.m. curfew went into effect Saturday night. Young is a student at Morehouse College, and Pilgrim attends Spelman College.
Young and Pilgrim were leaving the protest at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park in a car at the time. The CBS46 video shows officers opening the passenger side door, then smashing the driver’s side window as they deployed stun guns on both occupants.
Pilgrim was detained and later released at the scene without charges. Young was initially charged with fleeing the scene and driving with an expired license, but the mayor later ordered those charges to be dropped.
An Atlanta Police Department spokesman said Investigator Ivory Streeter had been with the Atlanta Police Department for more than 16 years. Investigator Mark Gardner had been with the department for more than 22 years.
Chief Shields said she knows both officers personally.
“These are good guys,” Shields said. “I know them as individuals. I’ve worked with the one for over 20 years. But they made that level of mistake that cannot be rolled back.”
CBS46 obtained seven officer-worn body camera videos and reviewed them Sunday night.
The footage shows an officer approach the car as Young, the driver, tried to videotape someone being arrested near the sidewalk. Officers tell the couple to keep moving. After words are exchanged, an officer opens the door and tries to grab Young, who drives off and closes his door. He doesn’t get very far because there’s traffic in front of him. That’s when several officers swarmed the car and started beating on the windows.
Pilgrim eventually opens her door and within seconds is hit with Gardner’s stun gun as she screams, “I didn’t do nothing!”
Other officers shatter the driver’s side window, and Streeter deploys his stun gun, striking Young.
During the commotion, an officer yells, “He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!”
No gun was found.
In a report filed by Officer Gardner, he said officers were attempting to secure Young and Pilgrim. He said he approached the passenger side and gave verbal commands to Pilgrim to “show her hands and stop resisting.” Then, Gardner says he heard other officers shout “gun.” Gardner said he couldn’t see the hands of the passenger, so that’s when he deployed his stun gun.
“I was not sure if she or the male driver was the one suspected of possessing the handgun. I served in a back up role to officers that were making the arrest based on a traffic stop. My purpose for deploying my taser was to bring the female under control for which the officer I was assisting was making an arrest. I did not witness the initial traffic violation or crime under which she or her male companion were being investigated,” Gardner said in his report.
Spelman SGA stands in solidarity with Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young. We will continue to keep you updated. Please take care of your mental health tonight, AUC family. #Redefined79 #StudentsLikeYou pic.twitter.com/o5JNs6UwxZ
— Spelman College SGA (@SpelmanSGA) May 31, 2020
Morehouse College released this statement on Sunday:
Morehouse College respects and supports the right of peaceful protest, and we expect that our students will be protected as they exercise that right.
While we cannot comment on an ongoing investigation, we echo the call for justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families.