Atlanta mayor: 2 officers fired in 'excessive force' arrests

Two police officers have been fired and three others placed on desk duty over excessive use of force during a protest arrest incident involving two college students, Atlanta's mayor said Sunday.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference that she and police Chief Erika Shields made the decision after reviewing body-camera footage of a Saturday night incident that first gained attention from video online and on local news.

“Use of excessive force is never acceptable," Bottoms told reporters. Shields called the footage “really shocking to watch.”

In this Saturday, May 30, 2020, photo taken from police body camera video released by the Atlanta Police Department, an officer points his handgun at Messiah Young while the college student is seated in his vehicle, in Atlanta. The following day, Atlanta's mayor two police officers were fired and three others placed on desk duty over excessive use of force during the arrest of Young and fellow college student Taniyah Pilgrim, seated in the passenger side of the car. (Atlanta Police Department via AP)

Police identified the fired officers as Investigator Ivory Streeter, who was hired in December 2003, and Investigator Mark Gardner, who was hired in August 1997.

The driver of the car was Messiah Young and his passenger was Taniyah Pilgrim, according to police. The mayor said the young man attended Morehouse College and the young woman was a student at Spelman College. Both schools are historically black colleges near downtown Atlanta.

Bottoms said the woman was released without charges. She said the man was released, too, and she's ordering charges against him dropped. A police report says Young was charged with attempting to elude police and driving with a suspended license.

Dramatic video from seven officers' body cameras released by police Sunday night shows officers taking another young man into custody, along a line of cars stopped downtown. The man pleads with police to let him go, saying he didn't do anything.

Young, his own car stopped in the street, appears to shoot video with his phone as an officer approaches and pulls his door open. Young pulls it shut and says repeatedly, “I'm not dying today." He tells officers that the other man is with them and urges them to release him 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 officer finally manages to break it.

As the 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.

Throughout the incident, Pilgrim and Young can be heard screaming and asking officers what is going on.

The mayor said she delayed a news conference by several hours Sunday to review all the body-camera footage because she and Shields wanted to be certain about what happened.

“I really wanted to believe that the body-worn camera footage would provide some larger view that could better rationalize why we got to this space,” Shields said. “And having spent most of the afternoon with the mayor, reviewing the footage exhaustively, I knew that I had only one option, and that is to terminate the employees.”

The mayor said she had spoken with leaders at Spelman and Morehouse, and with representatives for the students, but hadn't reached them directly.

The chief offered an apology and said she knows the officers' behavior was unacceptable and caused further fear.

“Sometimes the best thing, the only thing you can do as a police chief is come in and clean up the mess that’s before you,” Shields said.

“When wrong is wrong, we have to, as law enforcement, start dealing with it in the same manner that we would deal with it with non-law enforcement," Shields said. "For some reason, we’ve fallen into a gray area where there’s a separate set of rules for law enforcement, and if we want to get out of this space that we’re in now we have to change how we manage internally.”

Shields said she experienced a broad range of emotions as just a few hours before she saw the video, another of her officers was seriously injured. A preliminary investigation indicates the officer was standing in an intersection to direct traffic away from protesters when a person on an ATV approached at a high rate of speed and hit him.

Officer Maximilian Brewer suffered significant injuries to his legs and remained in the intensive care unit Sunday evening, Shields said, adding that she hopes he’ll be able to walk again.

The ATV rider, identified as 42-year-old Avery Goggans, was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and charged with DUI, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, possession of marijuana and other traffic charges, police Sgt. John Chafee said in an email.

Bottoms had imposed a 9 p.m. curfew for Saturday and Sunday. Gov. Brian Kemp authorized up to 3,000 National Guard troops to be deployed in cities across the state to respond if needed to protests over the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery in coastal Georgia.