Six Atlanta police officers accused of battery and aggravated assault against two college students during a George Floyd protest will not face criminal charges after all, the prosecutor overseeing the case announced.
The officers used Tasers to force two college students out of their car in the middle of the 2020 protest, and body camera video from the violent encounter directly refuted claims made by the six officers, including allegations that the students brandished a gun and that they had put the car in reverse, forcing one officer to pull another out of the way.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard called the incident "a vicious act" at the time.
But on Monday, Samir Patel, a temporary district attorney for the Atlanta Judicial Circuit, announced that the charges against the six officers would be dropped, saying their use of force was "a direct result" of the two students not complying with the officers' instructions.
In the statement, Patel notes the two students, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, were in violation of a temporary curfew when they were approached by officers on May 30, 2020.
"The facts indicate that the officers' actions were taken in response to Mr. Young's and Ms. PIlgrim's active resistance to the officers' directives," the statement added. "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."
Officials called the officers' actions "proportional to the force necessary to effectuate the arrests" and consistent with the Atlanta Police Department's policies.
Attorneys representing Pilgrim and Young said the two students and their families were "incredibly disappointed and disheartened by the decision."
"The world witnessed the outrageous and unjustified level of violence perpetrated against these college students," attorneys L. Chris Stewart, Justin Miller, and Mawuli Davis said in a joint statement. "The fact that these students and their families had to wait in anguish and put their lives on hold for two years while this case was kicked around the legal system is equally outrageous."
The attorneys also said the decision to dismiss charges against the officers "erodes community confidence in the justice system."
Patel was assigned to take over the case by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr last year after Howard, who filed the original charges, lost reelection in November 2020. His successor requested the case be reassigned to another office, claiming it was inappropriate for it to prosecute because Howard used videos from the case in campaign advertisements.
Videos of the encounter between the students and police caught national attention as protests broke out across the country in 2020 following Floyd's death. Demonstrators took to the streets protesting police violence, and videos of police using questionable force to subdue crowds during the same protests continued to fuel the national debate about police force against unarmed people of color.
In one video, an officer is seen opening the passenger door and telling Pilgrim to get out.
Pilgrim at first says no but is then heard telling the officer, "OK," and turning to Young, yelling, "Stop the car!"
"OK, OK, I'm getting out," she is heard saying, as an officer is seen deploying a Taser at her.
In the statement, Patel said the video that was distributed of the police encounter "was not an accurate portrayal of the entire encounter between Mr. Young, Ms. Pilgrim, and law enforcement."
Two of the officers involved in the incident, Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner, had been initially fired, but their dismissals were overturned in February 2021 after the Atlanta Civil Service Board found that the city did not follow its own procedures, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.