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

ATLANTA — Two college students said they feared for their lives when Atlanta police officers responding to protests used excessive force on them.

Messiah Young, 22, and Taniyah Pilgrim, 20, are speaking out for the first time about what happened to them Saturday night.

Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston attended their news conference held Monday on the Atlanta University Center campus. The couple, their families and attorneys were present.

“This isn’t just about me -- this isn’t just about us -- this is an entire generation that has to deal with brutality or injustice and wrong doing for nothing. Because of the color of their skin or simply because of what they prefer," Young said.

Attorneys for Young and Pilgrim said the two were out getting something to eat, got caught in traffic and weren’t part of the protests.

The couple said they pulled out their phones to record what they were seeing and believe that is why they were targeted.

A viral video showed officers using their Tasers and forcing the Morehouse and Spelman students out of their car. Two officers have been fired and three were placed on desk duty.

“I just can’t stop thinking about if cameras weren’t there or if they would have went a little bit further,” Pilgrim said. “It’s all that can cross my mind.”


Channel 2 Action News got copies of seven different police camera videos that showed the use of excessive force Saturday night.

Young suffered a fractured arm and had to get 20 stitches, according to his attorney.

“At the end of the day, it’s a blessing I’m alive and here to talk with you, to express everything that’s occurring at this moment," Young said.

After a review of the footage, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms fired two officers Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner. The other three officers involved were placed on desk duty.

Pilgrim said one officer, whom she identified as Officer A. Jones, threatened to shoot the couple as police led them away.

“I just want to put out there Officer A. Jones was disgusting. He did the worst thing imaginable. He said he was going to shoot us,” Pilgrim said.

“I still can’t process what happened," she said. “We felt like we were going to die in that car."

Attorneys for the couple said the students didn’t deserve to be detained and treated like criminals.

“It’s time for everybody to stop denying it happens -- it’s time for politicians to stop ignoring these ridiculous laws that protect excessive force," attorney L. Chris Stewart said.


Atlanta police have provided several body camera angles and incident reports from all the officers who were there.

Both men who were fired, Gardner and Streeter, were veteran APD officers.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray learned the two officers just recently went through use of force and de-escalation training.

Streeter completed his de-escalation training just last week, according to records.

“This is very surprising to us that they didn’t even follow their own protocols of how to terminate employees,” Vince Champion said.

Champion is the southeast regional director for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers. He told Gray he thinks the officer should have been placed on leave while the officers were investigated.

“We just don’t know the facts, making an arrest on video as a police officer. Almost all of them are going to be ugly," Champion said.

Mayor Bottoms and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields say the videos left them with no choice but to act.

“I knew that I had only one option and that was to terminate the employees," Bottoms said Sunday.

Gray obtained the disciplinary records of the two fired officers. Streeter contains only minor infractions.

Gardner’s contains a 2016 written reprimand involving personal weapons from a citizen complaint.

The police union is prepared to fight the firings.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he talked to the families of the college students and Shields as he explores possible criminal charges.

Comments on this article