Police body camera footage reveals details of confrontation

Messiah Young, left, and Taniyah Pilgrim participate in a press conference on Morehouse College campus Monday, June 1, 2020 with their families, their legal representation and the presidents of Morehouse College and Spelman College where the two students attend school. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The confrontation between Atlanta Police officers and a young African American couple Saturday night started with a statement of frustration.

“This is ridiculous, man!” said officer Ivory Streeter, according to body camera footage. “The tear gas is doing nothing but pushing them away. We’ve got to start hitting them.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reviewed the video from seven officers during the incident to gain a clearer picture of the confrontation, and to better understand why Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took the extraordinary step of ordering their terminations just 24 hours after the incident.

Bottoms said during a Sunday press conference that she and Chief Erika Shields decided on the discipline after reviewing the footage, which shows the officers spotting a young man on foot speaking with the driver of a Mazda almost immediately after Streeter’s comment.

It was about hour past the 9 p.m. curfew that Bottoms had imposed to help quell the unrest that has beset cities across the country. The traffic on Centennial Olympic Park Drive was barely moving, and the officers rushed the pedestrian and took him to the ground, according to the footage. Morehouse College senior Messiah Young started filming the arrest.

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The officers turned their attention to Young when he begged the officers to let his friend go.

The cops can be heard on the video ordering Young to keep driving, even though he had little room to move. “You’re about to go to jail!” Streeter yelled. “Where are you going to go now!”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms during a Sunday press conference at which she announced the firings of two police officers.

Spelman College psychology major Taniyah Pilgrim, the passenger in Young’s car, was tased and ripped from the vehicle. Young was also tased after an officer smashed out the driver’s side window with the butt of a rifle.

In addition to firing Streeter and officer Mark Gardner, both of whom are black, Bottoms placed three other officers involved in the incident on desk duty pending the outcome of further investigation. She pledged to reform the culture of the department.

In an exclusive interview with the AJC Monday, Pilgrim said a grim realization settled over her in the middle of the confrontation: “It’s happening to me.”

“I’ve never been in trouble. We’ve never been in trouble,” Pilgrim, 20, said. “It just made no sense.”

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The video shows Streeter following the couple when they attempted comply with his order and keep driving. He tried to rip Young out of the car and asked another officer to help smash the driver-side window, according to the video.

Pilgrim can then be seen opening the door.

“What’s going on?” she screamed. She pleaded with Young, her boyfriend, to stop the car.

“Okay, Okay, I’m getting out!” she yelled.

Then Gardner fired his Taser at her, and she was yanked from the vehicle.

“We felt like we were going to die in that car,” Pilgrim told reporters Monday.

On the other side of the vehicle, Young appears to try to remove the electrodes from his girlfriend, but police appear to think he’s reaching for a gun.

“It made no sense,” Pilgrim said.”There was no talking before. They just started beating the car, breaking the windows. It was so uncalled for, so random. We had no time to react, no time to even think.”

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Streeter also tased Young and helped dragged him out of the car after their officer broke the window. At one point, another officer can be seen putting up his hand to get him to stop delivering the shock.

Young, quiet and physically unassuming, was still bewildered 42 hours after the incident.

“This has truly been one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced in my life,” he said.

Police initially said Young was reaching for a gun when he was tased. No gun was recovered from the scene.

The couple said Monday that they unknowingly drove into the powder keg of angry protesters sparring with frustrated cops. Pilgrim said they were just looking for a place to eat.

“What did we do?” she said. “How did we make them so mad?”

Spelman president Mary Schmidt Campbell called Pilgrim’s story “one of the most harrowing experiences I ever heard.”

Pilgrim’s attorney, Chris Stewart, said police acted indiscriminately: “It’s not just adults. It’s not just black males. Now this is happening to children. They were treated like they had robbed a bank or shot up a church.”

Vince Champion, Southeast regional director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, criticized the speed with which discipline was handed out.

“There’s a process. There’s an investigation,” he said. “Then you determine what actually happened.”

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