Six officers from the Atlanta Police Department (APD) have been criminally charged by Fulton County District Attorney (DA) Paul Howard for an abusive arrest of two college students. Howard announced the charges Tuesday, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC).
“I agree with Mayor (Keisha Lance) Bottoms and I agree with our Police Chief Erika Shields when they both have conveyed in so many separate ways that the conduct involved in this incident, it is not indicative of the way that we treat people in the City of Atlanta and it certainly isn’t indicative of the way we treat our children and in this case, this incident involved two children,” Howard said at a press conference.
Morehouse College student Messiah Young, 22, and his girlfriend Spelman College student Taniya Pilgrim, 20, were on their way home Friday night amid protests over the murder of George Floyd when the arrest occurred. Young had stopped his car to record an arrest of someone he heard screaming when they were first approached by officers.
After an exchange of words, video of the incident shows APD officers chasing the car down, breaking the window, pulling Young and Pilgrim from their car and tasing them. After going viral, the footage triggered national outrage.
Former officers Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner – who were fired for their roles in the incident – as well as officers Lonnie Hood, Willie Sauls, Armond Jones and F. Roland Claud have been charged with various types of aggravated assault and battery.
Streeter and Jones have also been charged with pointing or aiming a gun and Claud was also charged with criminal damage to property.
Pilgrim said during the encounter, Jones also told them he was going to shoot them. Streeter allegedly pointed a gun at Young – who suffered a cracked wrist, 20 stitches in his forearm, bruised ribs, and other injuries, some of which resulted from him having a taser in his back for over 8 hours, Young said during an interview he and Pilgrim did with CNN.
“He did the worse thing,” Pilgrim told 11 Alive. “Walking me and Messiah off he said that he was going to shoot us. This is stuff that shouldn’t be said after all the trauma.”
Howard said they were able to press charges so swiftly because the information needed to draw probable cause was readily available. He credits the video footage from both the officers’ bodycams and onlookers; and victim and witness statements with helping accelerate charges in the case.
Young’s attorney Mawuli Davis said his client and Pilgrim were “terrorized by Atlanta’s finest” and he hoped the case went to a “full conclusion” of the officers beings “arrested indicted and convicted.”
“They have been traumatized by this experience and that’s why they asked if they could step out so that they did not have to watch themselves be brutalized by Atlanta’s Police Department,” Davis said. “They come from, as we say, good stock. These are good young people, who are doing good things, who have a bright future; and it is our hope and prayer that something that happens in the way of justice will not dampen the bright future that they have because of what they’ve experienced.”
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While the young couple expressed satisfaction with the charges, they want full justice to be served and absolute accountability from the officers who hurt them and those who abuse their power to hurt others.
“I’m so happy that they’re being held accountable for their actions because … there was nothing that could have been done to prevent something like that. It was just ridiculous,” Pilgrim said at the conference. “I hope every police officer who thinks it’s okay to drag someone, beat someone, do all this stuff because they’re cops, I hope they’re gonna be held accountable as well and be safe everyone please.”
“I’d just like to express my brief, small satisfaction for what has happened and just the sense that I feel safer a little now that these monsters are off of the street and no longer able to terrorize anyone else from this point on,” Young added. “We just need to make sure that all officers are held accountable, that there really is change moving forward within the culture of policing.”
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