ATLANTA — Several Atlanta police officers are no longer facing charges after being arrested for pulling two college students from a car in the summer of 2020.
Body camera video showed the officers pulling the students from a car during a protest in downtown Atlanta over the killing of George Floyd.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne spoke exclusively with the special prosecutor who decided to clear those officers of any wrongdoing.
Special prosecutor Samir Patel said the encounter near Centennial Olympic Park led to charges against six officers -- some felonies. One officer was only charged with a misdemeanor. All were obtained by the office of then-Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard through a judge.
But Howard’s successor, Fani Willis, opted out of the case for a conflict and the attorney general appointed Patel.
“This decision may upset quite a few people, but I cannot let that come into my mind when I made this determination,” Patel said. “The right thing in applying the law and the facts is to decline prosecuting in this matter.”
Patel said his main job is district attorney for Bartow and Gordon counties.
But last year he assumed the job of special prosecutor to determine whether six Atlanta police officers just did their jobs or broke the law May 30, 2020, at the chaotic epicenter of protests and more in downtown Atlanta in their encounter with college students Messiah Young and Taniya Pilgrim.
He determined criminal charges related to the incident against APD officers Ivory Streeter, Lonnie Hood, Mark Gardner, Roland Claud, Willie Sauls and Armond Jones must be dismissed.
“These officers had no intent to violate any criminal statute,” Patel said. “In the beginning of August, I asked the GBI to conduct an investigation which was increasingly difficult for them because I was asking them to investigate something that happened over a year before and they did an amazing job.”
Patel said the encounter occurred on the first night of a 9 p.m. curfew set by then-Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, in an apparent effort to distinguish those peacefully protesting the murder of George Floyd from others wanting to wreak havoc.
He cited civil service testimony from now-former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields.
“It was a powder keg we were sitting on a powder keg,” Shields said.
“These officers were ordered to detain individuals in violation of the curfew,” Patel said.
Patel said Young, who was at the wheel of a car police stopped downtown about 44 minutes after the curfew, and Pilgrim maintained they were unaware of the curfew.
“Initially, Messiah Young was attempting to video the arrest of a pedestrian possibly a friend nearby?” Winne asked Patel.
“That is correct,” Patel said.
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Patel said bodycam video shows three encounters between APD officers and the car in a matter of minutes where initially officers could have arrested the pair for the curfew violation but they just wanted them to move on and not impede traffic.
“Officers made repeated attempts to obtain compliance, they refused and these officers used the force they deemed necessary and reasonable,” Patel said.
Patel said after the first encounter, Young moved the car a short distance. In the second, he accelerated with an officer leaning into his vehicle. In the third, Young’s once open window was up, and the once-open driver’s door was locked.
“Was your decision a closer call when it came to what happened to Taniyah Pilgrim?” Winne asked Patel.
“It was,” Patel said.
Patel said Pilgrim, who had complied with an officer’s direction in the first stop to get back in the car, began to comply in the third by sticking her leg out but then pulled it back in and was Tased.
Then an officer smashed the window by Young and he was tased too.
Patel said neither Young nor Pilgrim are charged, and the officers should not be either.
“It became abundantly clear based upon the case law that these officers acted within their lawful scope and their actions were not criminal,” Patel said.
His attorney Mawuli Davis said Young suffered a fractured arm and received about 20 stitches.
He said an unknown officer punched Young several times in the back at a location away from the scene.
Justin Miller, lawyer for Pilgrim and Davis, say people are frustrated and angered by the decision that what happened to the college students should not have happened and that many Black Americans know the notion that Georgia is moving forward concerning police accountability is a myth.
Young and Pilgrim’s attorneys released a statement Monday night, saying:
“Messiah Young, Taniyah Pilgrim and their families are incredibly disappointed and disheartened by the decision announced today by the Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney that charges against the Atlanta Police Dept. officers have been dismissed.
“The world witnessed the outrageous and unjustified level of violence perpetrated against these college students. How can a broken arm and 25 stitches be deemed the appropriate response for an alleged curfew violation?
“The fact that these students and their families had to wait in anguish and put their lives on hold for two years while this case was kicked around the legal system is equally outrageous.
“The narrative that Georgia is on a ‘positive path’ as it relates to police accountability is a lie that should not be uttered or repeated. This decision only further erodes community confidence in the justice system.”
The attorney for Gardner and Streeter also released a statement, saying:
“On May 23, 2022, Investigators Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter were finally released from the criminal charges brought against them in connection with their May 30, 2020 interactions with Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim. Following a formal, detailed, professional investigation conducted by specially appointed prosecutor Samir Patel, with the assistance of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the felony charges brought against them on June 2, 2020 have been dismissed.
“Investigators Gardner and Streeter fully cooperated with the GBI. They were interviewed twice by a special agent and answered his questions even though they had absolutely no legal obligation to do so.
“On February 1, 2021, following full evidentiary hearings, the City of Atlanta Civil Service Board reversed the terminations of Investigators Gardner and Streeter and awarded them back pay. However, these two long-time, dedicated public servants have been waiting for the conclusion of Mr. Patel’s investigation.
“The civil unrest on May 29 and 30, 2020 resulted in looting, damage, and destruction to the City of Atlanta.
“When their city needed them, Investigators Gardner and Streeter drove into the chaos putting their lives at risk as they had done so many times to arrest the violent fugitives who prey on Atlanta citizens. Veteran officers described the violence and lawlessness of those nights as the worst they had ever seen. One Atlanta Police Major stated that there were so many reports of gunfire, that officers stopped discussing it on the police radio to keep the channels free for more urgent requests for help.
“Investigators Gardner and Streeter have been vindicated. The eighteen-page report from the special prosecutor details a complete lack of support for the criminal charges brought against them. While many of their critics and detractors are gone, Investigators Gardner and Streeter, like so many law enforcement officers, remain willing to risk their lives to protect strangers in fulfillment of their oaths of office.
“Investigators Gardner and Streeter sincerely thank the men and women of the City of Atlanta Police Department, the professional law enforcement officers around the United States who have supported them through this nightmare, and the caring, law-abiding citizens of the City of Atlanta who stood by them and provided words of encouragement.
“Investigators Gardner and Streeter look forward to returning to full duty as City of Atlanta Police Fugitive Investigators, tracking down the most violent, wanted individuals in the City of Atlanta as they have done for more than a decade. They also look forward to weighing and examining their options to address the injustice and damaged perpetrated upon them.
“At this time, neither Investigator Gardner nor Investigator Streeter plan to provide any interviews, but they wish to thank the media professionals who have fairly and accurately covered this story.”
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