Atlanta Cops Charged for Pulling Students Out of Car During Protest

An officer points his handgun at Messiah Young while the college student is seated in his vehicle in Atlanta on Saturday. (Atlanta Police Department via AP)

ATLANTA (CN) — Six Atlanta police officers are being charged with using excessive force against two black college students who were pulled from their car and arrested Saturday night during a protest calling for an end to police violence against black Americans.

A video of the officers breaking the windows of a vehicle, dragging the two victims out of the car and shocking them with Tasers went viral amidst nationwide protests this week sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Two of the Atlanta officers have already been fired and four have been placed on desk duty.

The victims were 20-year-old Spelman College student Taniya Pilgrim and 22-year-old Morehouse College student Messiah Young. The two were near downtown Atlanta when they were confronted by the officers who ordered them out of the vehicle.

Attorney Mawuli Davis, left, speaks on behalf of Taniyah Pilgrim, center, and Messiah Young, right, during a press conference on Monday. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard on Tuesday called Pilgrim and Young “extremely innocent” and announced that arrest warrants have been issued for officers Lonnie Hood, Willie Sauls, Ivory Streeter, Mark Gardner, Armond Jones and Roland Claud.

“The conduct in this incident isn’t indicative of the way we treat people in the city of Atlanta and it certainly isn’t indicative of how we treat our children,” Howard said.

Officers Streeter and Gardner, who were both fired by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms following the incident, are charged with aggravated assault. Streeter faces an additional charge of pointing or aiming a gun at Young.

The remaining four officers face charges including aggravated assault, battery, and criminal damage to property.

Howard said the officers have been asked to surrender by June 5. A $10,000 bond has been set for all six officers.

Body camera footage released by the Atlanta Police Department shows one officer trying to remove Young from the vehicle, which is stopped in the middle of the street.

Howard said Young, who was driving the vehicle, was trying to flag down a classmate to invite him into the car. A police officer tackled the classmate to the ground and another officer told Young to keep driving “or go to jail.”

The vehicle drove a few yards forward before stopping behind other vehicles in the road. One officer yelled for Young to stop and open the window and repeatedly hit the car’s window with a baton, smashing it. The officers then shocked both Young and Pilgrim with Tasers.

Officers continued to use Tasers on Pilgrim as she screamed that she was trying to comply with orders to exit the car.

At a press conference Tuesday, Pilgrim and Young both expressed satisfaction that the officers were charged.

“I feel a little safer now that these monsters are off the street and no longer able to terrorize anyone else from this point on,” Young said. “Moving forward, we need to make sure all officers are held accountable and that there really is change moving forward within the culture of policing.”

“I’m so happy that they’re being held accountable for their actions. There was not one justifiable thing that they did,” said Pilgrim. “I hope they are all held accountable because it’s not okay.”

Mayor Bottoms apologized on Sunday for the excessive force used by Atlanta police in the arrests.

During a press conference, Bottoms promised to set new standards for police conduct moving forward.

“Our attitudes toward how we not only police our communities, but how we respond to policing our communities, has to change,” the mayor said.

Protests in the Atlanta area continued Tuesday for the fifth consecutive day.

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