Charges dropped for Georgia officers accused of assaulting college students
▶ Watch Video: Black Lives Matter around the world: The global impact of George Floyd
The arrest affidavits of six Atlanta police officers were dismissed Monday after a Judicial Circuit District Attorney ruled that the officers acted in accordance with department guidelines when they arrested two college students after a protest in 2020. The dismissal comes nearly two years after video allegedly showing the officers assaulting the students during the arrest sparked national outrage.
Officers Ivory Streeter, Lonnie Hood, Mark Gardner, Ronald Claud, Willie Sauls, and Armond Jones were cleared of all charges following a nine month independent investigation into the incident. According to Atlanta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pro Tempore Samir Patel, the officers’ actions were “proportional to the force necessary to effectuate the arrests.”
Patel said in a statement that Messiah Young, 22, and Teniyah Pilgrim, 20, were violating curfew and were encountered by officers at approximately 9:44 p.m. on May 30, 2020. He said the officers’ use of force was a “direct result” of the pair’s alleged “resistance to and noncompliance with the officers’ instructions.”
“It is also clear from the evidence that the use of the Taser, and indeed any force used by the officers ended immediately once Mr. Young and Ms. Pilgrim were subdued,” Patel said, adding, “Not only was law enforcement acting within the scope of their legal authority in their actions to obtain compliance, their actions were also largely consistent with the Atlanta Police Department’s own use of force policy.”
Young and Pilgrim were driving away from a George Floyd protest at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park after the city’s 9:00 p.m. curfew when they were approached by the group of police officers, CBS affiliate WGCL reported at the time.
Video footage showed an officer tell Young, who was in the driver’s seat of the vehicle, to keep moving. Seconds later, another officer tried to pulled Young out of the car. Young was able to drive off but was stopped later down the road, where officers could be seen swarming the vehicle. Officers can be seen using their tasers on both Pilgrim and Young, who said he was pulled onto the pavement and punched at least 10 times during the encounter.
Throughout the incident, the two students asked the officers repeatedly what they had done wrong, The Associated Press reported. Pilgrim was held by police before being released without charges, but Young was charged with fleeing the scene and driving with an expired license. Those charges were dropped after an order from then Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, WGCL reported.
Patel said Monday that the video of the arrest was “not an accurate portrayal of the entire encounter” between Young, Pilgrim and police. He did not specify if he meant the body camera footage or other footage that appeared online.
Lawyers for Pilgrim and Young told The Associated Press that the pair is “incredibly disappointed and disheartened” by the decision to dismiss the charges.
“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 lawyers said.
The footage of the arrests added tension at a time of nationwide protests and discussion on race and police brutality.
Following the initial incident, Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard, Jr. announced charges for all six officers involved in the incident. Two of the officers were initially fired from the Atlanta Police Department, but were reinstated following an investigation from the Civil Service Board that said the city failed to follow the correct personnel procedures required to fire them, The Associated Press reported last year.
Jordan Freiman contributed to reporting.