6 Atlanta police officers booked into jail on excessive force charges

ATLANTA — Six Atlanta police officers who were charged after a violent confrontation with two college students during protests this weekend were booked into jail Wednesday.

A viral video on social media and body camera footage showed officers use Taser stun guns on two students, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, while they sat in their car. The officers then forcefully dragged them out of the car and arrested them.

Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms fired officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter after the video surfaced, saying it was a clear use of excessive force. The four other officers involved were placed on desk duty.

Shields said she was blindsided when Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard filed charges against all six officers Tuesday.

In an email leaked to Channel 2, Shields said she learned of the charges Monday through another employee, but Howard said he’d spoken to her Sunday. Howard also says she’d provided an officer to help his office investigate, and there were nearly a dozen conversations about charging.

“I had discussions with the chief about the people that we were going to charge. I had conversations with the mayor about people that we were going to be charging,” Howard said. "And so I’m a little confused when anyone indicates that they did not know anything about it.

Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston spoke with Shields Wednesday afternoon. The chief told Huddleston she stands by the officers being fired and that their conduct was wrong, but she was shocked they are now facing criminal charges.

“It ended up being a grenade being launched into the middle of the chaos that was already afoot,” Shields said.

Shields said Howard has been sitting on some officer misconduct investigations for years, but somehow, during an election year, this case wrapped up in less than 72 hours.

“What caught us off guard was, we have right now 17 use of force files in the DA’s office dating back to 2015," Shields said.

Howard said there’s a reason for that.

“If the case is delayed is because we are forced to put together the evidence in the case without the benefit of video, and in most cases, without the benefit of the police officers testimony, because the police officers generally will not sit for an interview with the DHS office," HOward said.

Shields said that because of the charges, five metro police agencies have decided not to help Atlanta with daily protest operations.

Huddleston checked with the departments and so far they have not confirmed that’s why.

“We were using the swat teams from those agencies, some of them were on the ground right beside us, just on the front lines. It’s not ideal,” Shields said.

“If you’re going to make a criminal case, you would expect more in the way of an investigative effort I would think,” Shields said.

Channel 2 Action News spoke with the police union about the conflicting accounts.

“I guess what I have to say that is we’ve been dealing with this for so long. I don’t know who to believe anymore,” said police union representative Vince Champion.

“She’s put them right in the middle of the politics because when you don’t have the mayor of the city, the top law enforcement official for the City of Atlanta and the top legal person on the same page, how do you know that justice can ever be done, much less for the police officers?”

The two fired officers and four other officers were booked into the Fulton County Jail Wednesday. All have been granted a signature bond, but they have not yet been released.

They've been charged with the following:

Mark Gardner -- Aggravated assault (felony)

Ivory Streeter -- Aggravated assault (felony), pointing or aiming gun or pistol at another (misdemeanor)

Roland Claud -- Criminal trespass (misdemeanor)

Lonnie Hood -- Aggravated assault (felony, 2 counts), simple battery (misdemeanor)

Armon Jones -- Aggravated battery (felony), pointing or aiming gun or pistol at another (misdemeanor)

Willie Sauls -- Aggravated assault, criminal trespass (misdemeanor)