Charges dropped against Atlanta officers who Tased college students

(l-r)Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, the two college students tased by APB officers in 2020, walk with attorneys Justin Miller & Maul Davis to a news conference at the Fulton County Courthouse after criminal charges against the officers were dropped. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: AJC

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(l-r)Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, the two college students tased by APB officers in 2020, walk with attorneys Justin Miller & Maul Davis to a news conference at the Fulton County Courthouse after criminal charges against the officers were dropped. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: AJC

Attorneys say video speaks for itself

Prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against six Atlanta police officers involved in the 2020 arrests of two college students who were stunned with Tasers during protests over George Floyd’s murder.

Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Samir Patel, whose office handled the case, announced the officers were cleared after a “thorough and independent review.”

Atlanta officers Ivory Streeter, Lonnie Hood, Mark Gardner, Ronald Claud, Willie Sauls and Armond Jones were charged by former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard after police stopped Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim on May 20, 2020, pulled them from a car and deployed their Tasers.

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“The evidence in this case shows that the involved officers’ use of force was the direct result of Mr. Young and Ms. Pilgrim’s resistance to and noncompliance with the officers’ instructions,” Patel said in a news release.

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Body camera footage shows Taniyah Pilgrim being stunned with a Taser during a downtown Atlanta traffic stop two years ago amid the George Floyd protests.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Body camera footage shows Taniyah Pilgrim being stunned with a Taser during a downtown Atlanta traffic stop two years ago amid the George Floyd protests.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

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Body camera footage shows Taniyah Pilgrim being stunned with a Taser during a downtown Atlanta traffic stop two years ago amid the George Floyd protests.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

The officers acted within the scope of their authority and their actions were consistent with the Atlanta Police Department’s use-of-force policy, he said.

The decision to dismiss the charges shocked Pilgrim and Young, who held a news conference Tuesday with their attorneys outside the Fulton County courthouse. Lawyers said the two were “brutally attacked” and that the video speaks for itself.

“It’s sad and it’s sickening,” said attorney Mawuli Davis, holding up the DA’s 26-page report. “This whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

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(l-r, foreground) Attorney Justin Miller Messiah Young, Taniyah Pilgrim & Attorney Maul Davis hold a news conference at the Fulton County Courthouse after criminal charges against the officers were dropped. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: AJC

(l-r, foreground) Attorney Justin Miller Messiah Young, Taniyah Pilgrim & Attorney Maul Davis hold a news conference at the Fulton County Courthouse after criminal charges against the officers were dropped. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
(l-r, foreground) Attorney Justin Miller Messiah Young, Taniyah Pilgrim & Attorney Maul Davis hold a news conference at the Fulton County Courthouse after criminal charges against the officers were dropped. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

The arrests, which were captured on video, happened shortly before 10 p.m. at Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Andrew Young International Boulevard. A citywide curfew was in place at the time following days of civil unrest across the country. Attorneys for Young and Pilgrim said their clients had no idea they were violating the curfew.

The footage appeared to show officers smash the driver’s side window before using their Tasers on the couple, pulling them from the car and throwing them to the ground.

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Messiah Young (left) and Taniyah Pilgrim

Credit: File photo

Messiah Young (left) and Taniyah Pilgrim

Credit: File photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Messiah Young (left) and Taniyah Pilgrim

Credit: File photo

Credit: File photo

Pilgrim, a psychology major at Spelman College at the time, said she was terrified.

“As scared as I was two years ago, I’m still scared right now knowing the people that caused so much trauma and harm to me and Messiah are able to walk free and go on about their lives,” she said.

Young, 24, then a business major at Morehouse College, said he suffered a fractured arm and a cut that required more than 20 stitches.

“All of the actions that were taken that night were escalated by the police,” he said.

His charges were later dropped and Pilgrim was never charged.

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Former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms fired Streeter and Gardner the day after the incident and issued a public apology to the students for what she said was clearly an excessive use of force.

Video of the arrests sparked widespread condemnation during the social reckoning over police violence against Black people. At the same time, many condemned the former mayor and DA for firing and charging the officers before an investigation had been completed.

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Pilgrim and Young are Black, as are most of the officers who were charged.

Streeter and Gardner were later reinstated by Atlanta’s Civil Service Board, which found the city “did not follow the personnel regulations of the Atlanta Code of Ordinances in the dismissal.”

ExplorePolice body camera footage reveals details of confrontation

Police had repeatedly ordered Young to turn around, but thick traffic made compliance difficult, the students’ attorneys said previously. According to Streeter and Gardner’s lawyer, Lance LoRusso, police feared there was a gun inside the car. They would later determine the students were unarmed.

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“Lawful use of force is never going to look good on video,” LoRusso said last year after his clients were reinstated. “You have to be trained to understand why the officers were doing what they were doing. There was a clear rush to judgment.”

Patel said the video of the incident was “not an accurate portrayal of the entire encounter” between the students and police, and that the officers’ actions were in response to the students’ “active resistance.”

An Atlanta police spokesman said five of the six officers are still employed by the city. Jones no longer works for the department.

LoRusso applauded the dismissal, saying his clients have been vindicated from a “nightmare.”

“The civil unrest on May 29 and 30, 2020 resulted in looting, damage, and destruction to the city of Atlanta,” he said in a statement. “When their city needed them, Investigators Gardner and Streeter drove into the chaos putting their lives at risk as they had done so many times.”

Now they look forward to returning to their jobs, LoRusso said, adding they are weighing options to “address the injustice and damages perpetrated upon them.”

It’s unclear what the decision could mean for Garrett Rolfe and Devin Brosnan, the Atlanta officers facing charges in the deadly police shooting of Rayshard Brooks two weeks after the Tasing incident. Brooks, who had been asleep at the wheel in a drive-thru line, punched Brosnan hard enough to cause a concussion and took his Taser when the officers tried to arrest him. He was fatally shot by Rolfe after aiming the device while running through the parking lot, surveillance video showed.

Vince Champion, the Southeast regional director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, said there’s often a “rush to judgment” in use-of-force cases, especially those captured on camera.

“From the beginning, we asked the public to wait for the investigation,” Champion said. “It went through the system and the system is working. The charges were dismissed and we are definitely happy about that.”

Davis, meanwhile, wondered aloud how much has actually changed since George Floyd suffocated under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee two years ago.

A federal lawsuit filed last year against the city of Atlanta and the officers is still pending.