Six Atlanta police officers have been charged with assault and battery for allegedly using excessive force to detain two college students in the middle of protests on Saturday, at one point tasing the students and violently pulling them out of their car.
"It was a vicious act," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said at a news conference Tuesday.
Officers used Tasers to force Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young, both students at historically black colleges, out of their car, and then threw them onto the ground to detain them, Howard said.
The encounter was caught on video by police body cameras, leading to officers Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner being fired the following day.
An investigation of the incident and review of footage from body cameras and the officers' reports led to charges against the officers, including four who were charged with aggravated assault, and another who was charged with aggravated battery.
Video from the incident also showed some of the officers had lied about the encounter, including one officer who falsely claimed the students had pointed a gun at police, and another who falsely claimed Young had tried to put the car in reverse and run him over.
"The conduct involving this incident is not indicative of the way we treat people here in the city of Atlanta," Howard said.
The officers and the charges they face were identified as:
- Ivory Streeter: aggravated assault, pointing or aiming a gun
- Mark Gardner: aggravated assault
- Lonnie Hood: two counts of aggravated assault, one count of simple battery
- Willie Sauls: aggravated assault, criminal damage to property
- Armond Jones: aggravated battery, pointing or aiming a gun
- Roland Claud: criminal damage to property
The arrests come as the country braces for another night of possible unrest and protests over the killing of unarmed black people by police.
Protests have turned violent in several cities, and anger over violence against peaceful protesters by police has fueled more demonstrations.
In Atlanta, Howard said the evidence and video helped investigators file charges against the six police officers.
"It's very difficult to watch that tape and not be affected by this," he said.
Pilgrim and Young were driving through a protest area when an officer can be heard telling them to leave or go to jail, Howard said.
The two leave down the street, but the officers then catch up with the students and try to force the doors open.
One officer broke a window, Howard said, and video shows officers using their Tasers to force Pilgrim out of the car.
"It went on for some time while she was shaking and screaming in pain," Howard said. "After the tasing took place, she was then taken out of the car and thrown to a paved street."
Young can be seen trying to protect Pilgrim and to pull the Taser wires away. An officer eventually pulled him out of the car and threw him onto the pavement, causing him to fracture his wrist and leaving a gash that required 24 stitches.
The body camera footage also refutes the claim made by an officer that he saw Young put the car in reverse and that another officer “had to pull him out of the way so he would save his life.”
"As you can see, when Young was in the car, he spent most of the time trying to repel the Tasers that were shot into his body," Howard said. "You cannot see an instance where any attempt was made to run over an officer."
Another officer, after the incident was over, said "they pulled a gun on us," but Howard points out no weapon was ever found in the car or in the possession of Pilgrim and Young.
"They were both extremely innocent," Howard said. "They were so innocent to the point of being naive."
The six officers have been told they can turn themselves in by June 5, Howard said. They are facing a $10,000 bond.