Two college students who say they were assaulted and shot with stun guns by Atlanta police officers last year plan to file a lawsuit against the city, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and several of the officers they say were involved in the incident.
At a press conference, attorneys for Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young said police stormed their car, smashed their windows and physically assaulted them on May 30, 2020. News of the incident, caught on camera, went viral last year.
"For these young people to have this video out and have to live with this for the rest of their lives is unthinkable, but we are here to hold the city and all those involved accountable," said Mawuli Davis, Young's lawyer.
A spokesperson for the mayor's office said that the city "has not been served with any such lawsuit" and therefore was unable to comment on any potential litigation.
The two students talked about the emotional and physical trauma they say they've suffered since the incident.
"A huge part of my life was diminished," Young said. "Trying to move forward from this point is very irritating and very triggering. At a point, just seeing brutality continue, you would think there would be some type of reform or change at this point."
Pilgrim is a student at Spelman College and Young is a student at Morehouse College. The two were driving past a protest about the death of George Floyd, and it was after 9 p.m., when the city curfew began.
Young, who was in his car, was filming protesters being arrested. He said police officers warned him to keep driving, but the two students appeared to be stuck in traffic. The attorneys for the students say that police then surrounded the vehicle and tried to force its doors open.
Officers allegedly then smashed through the windows of the car, shot Young and Pilgrim with stun guns, and assaulted them, the attorneys said.
The two were pulled from the car, according to a statement from the attorneys, and Pilgrim was thrown to the ground by officers and handcuffed while face down on the pavement. He was not charged with a crime.
Young was punched repeatedly in the back by officers and suffered a laceration in his arm that required stitches, according to the statement. Young was charged with eluding police and released on bond.
"We have plans to be moving on with our lives ... and unfortunately that's been put on hold," Pilgrim said at the press conference. She described still needing medical treatment for injuries related to the incident. "Our lives are now at a standstill because of this when we should be able to be moving on as, you know, the officers are doing."
Young said he's reminded of the alleged assault every day.
"The events that took place that night should not have transpired how they did," Young said. "It makes no sense at all."
Six police officers were variously charged by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard with aggravated assault, pointing or aiming a gun, simple battery and criminal damage to property following the incident. Officers Lonnie Hood, Roland Claud, Mark Gardner, Armond Jones, Willie Sauls and Ivory Streeter had arrest warrants issued in connection with the incident.
They all turned themselves in shortly after they were charged and were all granted signature bonds.
Bottoms and Shields fired officers Gardner and Streeter for excessive force, but their termination was overturned earlier this year and they have been reinstated with the department.
“We were able to get a Civil Service Board hearing and were able to prove to the Board’s satisfaction that the officers were denied due process,” attorney Lance LoRusso, who is representing officers Gardner and Streeter,told 95.5 WSB last year. “They failed to follow the ordinances and failed to follow their own policies, and the Board ordered them reinstated.”
LoRusso blamed the students for the incident, saying it would not have escalated if the students had followed police orders.
LoRusso also told WSB that the reversal of the two officers' termination was "a victory for due process."
"Rushing to judgment is not going to solve anything,” LoRusso said.