ATLANTA — Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields sent an email to the department Tuesday night, indicating she was blindsided by criminal charges filed in the case of six officers.
Those officers are facing excessive force charges in a Saturday night arrest of two Atlanta college students who were pulled from their cars during Saturday night protests.
Chief Shields also indicated the department had lost tactical support because of the newly filed charges.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard filed charges against the six officers Tuesday. In addition to the two fired officers, the remaining four are on administrative leave. They’re all expected to turn themselves in by Friday.
The email was sent by two sources to Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr, shortly after Shields sent it around 8 p.m. It was confirmed by department officials late Tuesday evening.
Shields said she spent four hours Sunday reviewing video of the incident and realized conflicting instructions, such as not allowing the students a chance to respond, created chaos and escalated a low-level encounter into a space where officers introduced violence. She called the cops “good people and good cops” who made “multiple mistakes in a heated moment.”
Yes, it sucks, and I am beyond discouraged- I’ve been there, and I know just how hard this job is. But if we are ever going to change the narrative around policing, we must be committed to being accountable always, regardless of the situation or the additional stress it may bring,” Shields wrote.
She went on and described how she didn’t know criminal charges would be filed.
“Our intention was to carry out an administrative investigation into the actions of the other officers on scene; criminal charges were never part of any discussion that I had with the Mayor or her administration. The criminal piece was brought to my attention yesterday through a fellow employee. Upon receiving the information, I called the DA and strongly expressed my concern, both to the appropriateness and the timing of any charges. Now that the charges have been announced, I’m very concerned with the space we find ourselves in, both tactically and emotionally. Multiple agencies that were assisting us in managing this incredibly volatile time have pulled out, effective immediately. They are not comfortable with their employees being leveraged politically by the potential of also facing criminal charges.”
She signs off with this:
“I am providing you with this level of detail because you need to know what is going on if there is any chance of us navigating our current state safely. The officers were fired because I felt that is what had to occur. This does not mean for a moment that I will sit quietly by and watch our employees get swept up in the tsunami of political jockeying during an election year. Stay strong and know that we will find better days ahead. -- Chief Shields”
Carr spoke with Howard on Wednesday and asked him about the police chief’s letter.
“I was sort of confused, and I was confused because the chief indicated for all the world to hear that the conduct on behalf of these officers was excessive. Excessive means that you’ve committed a crime,” Howard said.
“We had the videotape. You got the evidence. So what are you waiting for? Because this, Nicole, is what every citizen in this country realizes. If the situation had been reversed, if that had been a civilian, would we be sitting waiting for some action? No, and I believe the law ought to be applied equally. Equal to citizens and equal to police," Howard added.
The police union argues that they are still too many unknowns to go from firings to criminal charges in three days.
“I guess what I have to say is that we’ve been dealing with this for so long I don’t know who to believe anymore,” said Vince Champion with the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.
Laywers for officers Gardner and Streeter say their actions were reasonable given the chaos and they have not gotten due process.
The mayor’s office sent this statement to Carr on Wednesday afternoon:
"The decision to prosecute or not prosecute is the District Attorney’s alone. The Mayor has the authority to fire or not fire, as you saw her take such action Sunday. The City continues to investigate the facts of the matter and take action as needed, and within our authority.
The Mayor believes there is a broader point to be made, in that we must create levels of trust between public safety officials and the communities they are sworn to protect."
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