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'They're just not the same' | Parents, students describe enduring trauma of Atlanta tasing incident

Taniyah Pilgrim, a Spelman student, and Messiah Young, a Morehouse student, were dragged out of a car and tased during protests in downtown Atlanta last year.

ATLANTA — Taniyah Pilgrim, Messiah Young and their parents described on Thursday the lingering trauma inflicted on the two young college students when they were dragged out of a car and tased during protests last summer in downtown Atlanta.

In a news conference announcing a lawsuit against the city, Pilgrim, a Spelman student, said the events of the night of May 30 last year still bring her anxiety, and "nightmares that I still have to experience almost every single night."

Young's father, Charles Young, said it had sapped his son of much of his spirit, with his wife comparing the Morehouse student to "the walking dead."

"We discuss with Taniyah's parents, we always say, 'There's something different about them,'" Charles Young said. "They're just not the same."

RELATED: Atlanta college students tased, dragged from car during protests announce lawsuit against city

Pilgrim's mother, Lakeisha Pilgrim, said, "I left a little girl at Spelman to pursue her dreams and I came back to a shell of her."

The episode last year is one the students have have described as "the most traumatic thing" that has ever happened to them. Pilgrim was never charged with anything, and a charge against Young was dropped. 

Attorneys said officers "stormed their car, smashed out their windows and tased and assaulted both of them" in the incident, which was captured on body cam video.

"Officers threw Pilgrim to the ground, she landed face down on the pavement and they handcuffed her. Young was punched repeatedly and suffered a deep laceration to his arm that required 13 stitches," a release said. "Both Pilgrim and Young were taken into custody. Pilgrim was held against her will for four hours without a mask in a police van with others during the height of COVID."

Four Atlanta officers were fired in the incident, though two were later reinstated, and six altogether still face charges ranging in seriousness from aggravated assault to criminal damage.

Messiah Young said Thursday that he is constantly forced to re-live the episode, both directly with developments in his case and indirectly when he sees of reports of police brutality elsewhere.

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"Trying to move forward from this point is very, very irritating and very, very triggering at a point, just seeing brutality continue," he said. "You would think that there would be some type of reform or change at this point - every day I'm reminded of something from that night... there's no reason that the events that took place that night should have transpired how they did. It makes no sense at all. These are so-called professionals doing their so-called job, but we see on a daily basis that – there seems to be like a never-ending cycle of this."

Pilgrim said the ongoing lack of resolution in the matter has left her and Young in a semi-permanent limbo, unable to fully find closure.

"We had plans to be moving on with our lives, going to graduate and get a job, and unfortunately that's been put on hold," she said. "It's an indefinite hold because we really don't know when this will be over.. our lives are now at a standstill because of this when we should be able to move on, as the officers are doing and other people are doing. It's just very unfair and very sad that this has to be the situation."

The criminal case against the officers faces an unclear future with the new Fulton County District Attorney attempting to recuse herself from it. A judge recently ruled she could recuse herself from the Rayshard Brooks police shooting case, but it's not clear how that ruling affects the case involving Pilgrim and Young, if it does at all.

The lawsuit announced on Thursday is a product, lawyers said, of the City of Atlanta's ongoing unwillingness to come to a settlement.

Attorney L. Chris Stewart said it would likely be litigated "for years," a daunting prospect for the two students and their parents.

"I see (Taniyah) and Messiah every day and I watch them struggle, I watch them try to be normal, and at this point we don't even know what normal is because their lives have changed so much," Pilgrim's mother said. "We just ask that for the people who did this to them to be held accountable."

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