ATLANTA — Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has charged six Atlanta police officers for using excessive force in the arrest of two college students during protests Saturday night.
"The conduct involved in this incident is not indicative of the way we treat people in the city of Atlanta,” Howard said in a news conference Tuesday.
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.
The students said they are relieved that charges have been brought against the officers.
“I’m happy they are finally being held accountable," Pilgrim said. "All I can say is I hope every police officer who thinks it’s OK to drag someone, beat someone because they’re cops — I hope they are held accountable as well.”
“I feel a little safer now, now that these monsters are off of the street and no longer to terrorize anyone else from this point on,” Young said.
A $10,000 signature bond has been set, and the officers have until Friday to turn themselves in. Here are the charges announced by Howard on Tuesday.
THE OFFICERS INVOLVED:
- Ivory Streeter: Aggravated assault on Pilgrim (used taser); pointing or aiming gun on Young
- Mark Gardner: Aggravated assault on Pilgrim (used taser)
- Lonnie Hood: Aggravated assault on Young (used taser); aggravated assault and simple battery on Pilgrim (used taser)
- Willie Sauls: Aggravated assault on Pilgrim (pointed taser); criminal damage to property (car)
- Armond Jones: Aggravated battery of Young (forcefully thrown unto paved street); pointing or aiming a gun at Young
- Roland Claud: Criminal damage to property (car)
The police union is calling foul on the quick response by Howard.
“We’ve had cases that have gone on two to four years that DA Paul Howard hasn’t been able to make a decision on, and had officers sitting on the desk for two to four years. Yet he could do this really quick in three days? I think there’s a little more motivation here than trying to serve justice or to do the right thing,” said Vince Champion, with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.
The union plans on fighting the charges. A union representative told Channel 2 Action News that Howard and his office never spoke with the officers to get their side of the story.
The students say they got caught up in protests after grabbing a bite to eat. Just hours earlier, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had announced a 9 p.m. curfew.
In the video, you can see the officers yank the students out of their car. When the students refused, they were shocked with stun guns and thrown to the ground. Officers broke a car window and slashed a tire. Pilgrim was handcuffed and put in a police vehicle.
Young’s wrist was fractured, and he spent the night in jail.
- “We felt like we were going to die” Students Tased by Atlanta police speak for first time
- Officers fired for tasing college students had just finished de-escalation training, records show
The young couple’s attorneys believe they were targeted after they started shooting a video of another Morehouse College student being tackled.
“They begin to film and try to capture, ‘Oh my God, what are they doing?' And so as soon as they try to capture that misconduct, they become the victims of the very same kind of misconduct,” attorney Mawuli Davis said.
The Georgia NAACP worked to bail them out, and the students were never charged with a crime.
As Howard announced charges against all six officers involved, Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr took a look at records immediately available to us through the state and the Atlanta Police Department.
Willie Sauls, Jr. has nearly 30 years in law enforcement, including time on the U.S. marshal’s fugitive task force. Just two months ago, he’d completed cultural awareness, use of force and de-escalation training.
Days prior to the incident, Officer Roland Claud had also completed the same training. He’s been with APD for 13 years and faces a charge for damaging the students’ cars.
In March and April, 21-year veteran Officer Lonnie Hood completed training in the same area. Last year, Taser recertification was completed. He is charged for use of the Taser on Young and aggravated assault on Pilgrim.
It had been about a year since Officer Armond Jones completed his training. He was the freshest officer in the bunch, going from cadet to officer in October 2018. He faces an aggravated battery charge for throwing Young on the ground and pointing his gun.
Before he was charged, Pilgrim identified him as Officer A. Jones.
“Walking me and Messiah off, he said he was going to shoot us. After all the trauma, and he says this. I still can’t even process what happened. And for someone to say something like that — it was disgusting,” Pilgrim said.
Those four are currently on administrative leave as of Tuesday evening.
But from our report Monday, we know Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner, the two officers fired earlier in the week and charged Tuesday, were also veterans on the force, investigators in the fugitive unit and had recently gone through all that same de-escalation and use-of-force training.
"I knew that I had only one option, and that was to terminate the employees,” Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said during a news conference over the weekend when she announced the officers had been fired.
The officers have until Friday to turn themselves in.
Here is the entire news conference the DA’s office held Tuesday: