Attorney says DA rushed to charge officers involved in Tasing of college students

Attorney says DA rushed to charge officers involved in tasing of college students

ATLANTA — The attorney for two Atlanta police officers charged with aggravated assault says the district attorney’s contention that the officers’ use of a Taser amounted to assault would turn law enforcement on its ear.

The city fired officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter the day after the incident in which two young people were shocked with a Taser and pulled from their car downtown.

[READ: “We felt like we were going to die” Students Tased by Atlanta police speak for first time]

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District Attorney Paul Howard issued arrest warrants for Gardner, Streeter and four other officers. In total, four of them were charged with aggravated assault, a serious felony.

Aggravated assault in Georgia is described as assault “with a deadly weapon or with any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury.”

The officers’ attorney, Lance Lorusso, says that’s not the case here.

“As a matter of law, a Taser is not a deadly weapon. It’s not listed as a deadly weapon in any state in the United States,” Lorusso said.

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In his first interview since his clients were charged, Lorusso criticized the district attorney’s office for relying on the use of a Taser to build the serious charge against Streeter and Gardner. He contends that signals to other officers that they are at risk when they use a Taser, which is considered an intermediate level of force.

Lorusso spent 12 years in law enforcement in Cobb County.

“I’ve been exposed to a Taser. I’m still here. I shot people with a Taser in training. They’re still here,” Lorusso said. “It would turn American law enforcement on its ear if we’re going to label a Taser as a deadly weapon.”

Like Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, who fired his clients, Lorusso contends that Howard rushed the criminal charges against all six officers for political reasons.

Last week, the police department released body camera video of the incident. Lorusso said there’s a lot more to the video than most people have seen. He focused specifically on a part of the video that he calls the probable cause for the arrest: the driver driving off after an officer opened the door and ordered him to get out.

"The officer opens the door, and the person drove away so quickly, he almost takes the officer off his feet. That’s a crime,” Lorusso said. “A lawful use of force will never look good on camera no matter how you see it, no matter what angle. When you’re going to shunt and clip that tape to an end, it’s definitely not going to be fair to the officers, fair to the public and fair to the discussion that we’re supposed to be having.”

Howard did not provide a statement for our story.

The officers still have yet to be indicted and right now, grand juries aren’t meeting because of the public health crisis.

Attorney says without video, officers charged with Tazing college students wouldn't have been charged