ATLANTA — The charges against the Atlanta police officers who used a Taser against two college students in 2020 have been dismissed on the grounds that their use of force was justified, according to the Cherokee County District Attorney's Office.
The case stems from protests in downtown Atlanta on May 30, 2020, following the police-killing George Floyd, in an incident involving Taniyah Pilgrim, a Spelman College student at the time, and Messiah Young, a student at Morehouse College.
Attorneys for the students said the young adults were tased by Atlanta Police officers and yanked out of their vehicle. APD released body camera video of the incident.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis recused herself from the investigation. Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Samir Patel was tapped as the prosecutor.
Patel's office announced Monday that prosecutors have wrapped up their review of the case involving Ivory Streeter, Lonnie Hood, Mark Gardner, Ronald Claud, Willia Sauls and Armond Jones. Streeter and Garder were both let go from the department, and later Jones and Hood were fired as well. Claud and Sauls were put on desk duty.
In Monday's announcement, prosecutors pointed out Young and Pilgrim violated curfew on May 30, 2020, and were approached by law enforcement.
"The evidence, in this case, shows that the involved officers' use of force was the direct result of Mr. Young and Ms. Pilgrim's resistance to and noncompliance with the officers' instructions," prosecutors said. "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. 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."
Attorneys for Gardner and Streeter celebrated the investigators' findings, adding they were reinstated to their roles in February 2021 and awarded back pay -- but the lingering charges left them in legal limbo.
"The civil unrest on May 29 and May 30, 2020, resulted in looting, damage, and destruction to the City of Atlanta. When their city needed them, Investigators Gardner and Streeter drove into the chaos putting their lives at risk as they had done so many times to arrest the violent fugitives who prey on Atlanta citizens," the officers' legal team wrote in a prepared statement. "Investigators Gardner and Streeter have been vindicated. The eighteen-page report from the special prosecutor details a complete lack of support for the criminal charges brought against them. While many of their critics and detractors are gone, Investigators Gardner and Streeter, like so many law enforcement officers, remain willing to risk their lives to protect strangers in fulfillment of their oaths of office."
In a statement, attorneys said the officers look forward to returning to full duty with APD and "weighing and examining their options to address the injustice and damaged perpetrated upon them."
In June 2020, Pilgrim said one of the officers threatened further violence against her and Young.
"He did the worse thing," Pilgrim said about one of the officer's actions. "Walking me and Messiah off he said that he was going to shoot us. This is stuff that shouldn't be said after all the trauma."
Investigators did not touch on this specific claim, however, they did add "the actions of the officers were proportional to the force necessary to effectuate the arrests." The district attorney added that the video that was widely distributed through media was not an accurate portrayal of the entire encounter, a statement reads.
"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," the decision reads.
Attorneys for the college students released a statement, adding that the legal team, Pilgrim, Young and their families are disappointed with the district attorney's decision.
"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?" a spokesperson for the legal team said.
The legal team, which is made up of attorneys L. Chris Stewart, Justin Miller and Mawuli Davis added that the timeline to reach the decision was also unjustifiable.
"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 statement read. "The narrative that Georgia is on a 'positive path' as it relates to police accountability is a lie that should not be uttered or repeated. This decision only further erodes community confidence in the justice system."
With the publication of the decision, prosecutors said the affidavits of arrest issued by former District Attorney Paul Howard on June 2, 2020, are dismissed.