ATLANTA - Six officers accused of using excessive force in the arrest of two college students Saturday night will face charges, according to the Fulton County District Attorney's Office.
During a news conference Tuesday, Fulton County District Attorney said arrest warrants had been issued for all six officers involved in the incident.
Five of the officers are charged with aggravated assault, in addition to other charges.
Two of the officers, Investigator Ivory Streeter and Investigator Mark Gardner, were fired earlier this week. Streeter was hired in December 2003, and Gardner was hired in August 1997.
“I feel a little safer now that these monsters are off the street and no longer able to terrorize anyone else,” said Messiah Young, who was dragged from the vehicle along with his girlfriend, Taniyah Pilgrim, while they were caught in traffic.
A Body-camera video released by police shows a group of officers shouting orders, smashing the driver’s side window, deploying stun guns and pulling Pilgrim and Young from the sedan. Throughout, the couple can be heard screaming and asking officers what is happening.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference Sunday after reviewing body camera footage that she and police Chief Erika Shields decided to immediately fire two of the officers involved and place three others on desk duty pending an investigation.
“Use of excessive force is never acceptable,” Bottoms told reporters. Shields called the footage “really shocking to watch.”
Roland Claud, Marck Gardner, Lonnie Hood Jr., Armon Jones, Willie Sauls, and Ivory Streeter were charged by the Fulton County District attorney on June 2, 2020. (Atlanta Police Department)
Young suffered a fractured arm and required 20 stitches. He said the arrest was “one of the hardest things that I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
The two were out getting something to eat Saturday night when they got snarled in traffic along Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, their lawyers said. A friend of theirs, another Morehouse student, was standing in the street talking to them while they were stopped when police began to take him into custody, Young’s lawyer Mawuli Davis said.
Young used his phone to film what was happening and that’s when officers turned on him, Davis said, adding he believes the officers’ motivation was to keep his client from capturing what was going on.
Police on Sunday released video from seven officers’ body cameras. It shows the officers taking the other young man into custody as he pleads with them to let him go, saying he didn’t do anything.
Young, behind the wheel of a car stopped in the street, is holding his phone up as an officer approaches and pulls his door open. Young pulls it shut and says repeatedly, “I’m not dying today.” He tells officers the other man is with them and urges them to release his friend and let him get in the car.
The car advances and gets stuck in traffic as officers run up to both sides, shouting orders. An officer uses a stun gun on Pilgrim as she’s trying to get out, and officers pull her from the car.
Another officer yells at Young to put the car in park and open the window. An officer repeatedly hits the driver’s side window with a baton, and another finally manages to break it. Officers also slashed the tires, the lawyers said.
As the window glass shatters, an officer uses a stun gun on Young and officers pull him from the car as officers shout, “Get your hand out of your pockets,” and, “He got a gun. He got a gun. He got a gun.” Once he’s out and on the ground, officers zip tie his hands behind his back and lead him away.
Police reports do not list a gun as having been recovered. Davis said Young has never been arrested and there was no gun or drugs in the car.
Howard said no gun was found.
“There is no justification, none whatsoever, for what they did to them and for what the system did to them,” Davis said, later adding, “If there was a gun, best believe this would have had a very different outcome.”
In incident reports, Streeter wrote that he used his “electronic conductive weapon” on the driver and Gardner wrote that he deployed his Taser “to bring the female passenger under control.”
Young, 22, of Chicago, is a rising senior at Morehouse, where he’s studying business management. Pilgrim, 20 — from San Antonio, Texas — is a psychology major at Spelman College. Both schools are historically black colleges near downtown Atlanta.
The two officers whose firings were announced Sunday — Investigator Ivory Streeter and Investigator Mark Gardner — were charged along with four other officers.
Training records from the Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, which certifies law enforcement officers in Georgia, show that Streeter and Gardner recently completed training in use of force and in deescalation tactics.
Streeter is charged with aggravated assault for using a Taser against Young and is also charged with pointing a gun at Young, arrest warrants say.
Gardner is charged with aggravated assault for using a Taser against Pilgrim, a warrant says
Lonnie Hood is charged with aggravated assault against both Young and Pilgrim for using a Taser against both of them, an arrest warrant says. He is also charged with simple battery for violently pulling Pilgrim from the car and throwing her down on to the street, a warrant says.
Willie Sauls is charged with aggravated assault for pointing a Taser at Pilgrim, a warrant says. He’s also charged with criminal damage for repeatedly hitting and damaging the driver’s side window of the car, which belongs to Pilgrim, a warrant says.
Armond Jones is charged with aggravated battery for hurting Young’s left arm when he dragged him from the car and slammed him onto the street, a warrant says. He’s also charged with pointing a gun at Young.
Roland Claud is charged with criminal damage for using a “window punch” to break the windows of Pilgrim’s car, a warrant says.
Howard says he has asked a judge to set a signature bond of $10,000, which means they wouldn’t have to pay anything unless they fail to show up for court dates. The two main reasons for that is to limit the number of people in the Fulton County jail during the coronavirus pandemic and because they are police officers, Howard said.
The officers have been asked to turn themselves in by the end of the day Friday, he said.
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields released the following statement following the charges being announced:
“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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.