ATLANTA (AP) — Two police officers have been fired and three others placed on desk duty over excessive use of force during a protest arrest incident involving two college students, Atlanta’s mayor said.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference Sunday that she and police Chief Erika Shields made the decision after reviewing body-camera footage of a Saturday night incident that first gained attention from video online and on local news.
“Use of excessive force is never acceptable,” Bottoms told reporters. Shields called the footage “really shocking to watch.”
Police identified the fired officers as Investigator Ivory Streeter, who was hired in December 2003, and Investigator Mark Gardner, who was hired in August 1997.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said in an emailed statement Monday that his office is in communication with Shields and is “moving rapidly to reach an appropriate charging decision.”
The driver of the car was Messiah Young and his passenger was Taniyah Pilgrim, according to police. The mayor said the young man attended Morehouse College and the young woman was a student at Spelman College. Both schools are historically black colleges near downtown Atlanta.
At a news conference Monday afternoon, the 20-year-old Pilgrim said she was still trying to process what had happened.
“We felt like we were going to die in that car,” she said.
Young, 22, called the episode “one of the hardest things that I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Bottoms said the woman was released without charges. She said the man was released, too, and she’s ordering charges against him dropped. A police report says Young was charged with attempting to elude police and driving with a suspended license.
Dramatic video from seven officers’ body cameras released by police Sunday night shows officers taking another young man into custody, along a line of cars stopped downtown. The man pleads with police to let him go, saying he didn’t do anything.
Young, his own car stopped in the street, appears to shoot video with his phone as an officer approaches and pulls his door open. Young pulls it shut and says repeatedly, “I’m not dying today.” He tells officers that the other man is with them and urges them to release him and let him get in the car.
The car advances and gets stuck in traffic as officers run up to both sides, shouting orders. An officer uses a stun gun on Pilgrim as she’s trying to get out, and officers pull her from the car.
Another officer yells at Young to put the car in park and open the window. An officer repeatedly hits the driver’s side window with a baton, and another officer finally manages to break it.
As the glass shatters, an officer uses a stun gun on Young and officers pull him from the car as officers shout, “Get your hand out of your pockets,” and, “He got a gun. He got a gun. He got a gun.” Once he’s out and on the ground, officers zip tie his hands behind his back and lead him away.
Police reports do not list a gun as having been recovered.
Throughout the incident, Pilgrim and Young can be heard screaming and asking officers what is going on.
In incident reports, Streeter wrote that he used his “electronic conductive weapon” on the driver and Gardner wrote that he deployed his Taser “to bring the female passenger under control.”
Training records from the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which certifies law enforcement officers in Georgia, show that Streeter took a three-hour course on de-escalation tactics on May 24 and earlier last month took a six-hour class on use of force.
Gardner completed three hours of training on use of force and two hours on de-escalation tactics in late March, according to POST records.
The mayor and chief said they carefully reviewed body-camera footage to be certain about what happened.
“I really wanted to believe that the body-worn camera footage would provide some larger view that could better rationalize why we got to this space,” Shields said. “And having spent most of the afternoon with the mayor, reviewing the footage exhaustively, I knew that I had only one option, and that is to terminate the employees.”
The mayor said she had spoken with leaders at Spelman and Morehouse, and with representatives for the students, but hadn’t reached them directly.
The chief offered an apology and said she knows the officers’ behavior was unacceptable and caused further fear.
“Sometimes the best thing, the only thing you can do as a police chief is come in and clean up the mess that’s before you,” Shields said.
“When wrong is wrong, we have to, as law enforcement, start dealing with it in the same manner that we would deal with it with non-law enforcement,” Shields said. “For some reason, we’ve fallen into a gray area where there’s a separate set of rules for law enforcement, and if we want to get out of this space that we’re in now we have to change how we manage internally.”
Bottoms had imposed a 9 p.m. curfew for Saturday and Sunday. Gov. Brian Kemp authorized up to 3,000 National Guard troops to be deployed in cities across the state to respond if needed to protests over the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Georgia.