A pair of Atlanta Police Department officers are off the job after what Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said was clearly an excessive use of force against two college students during protests in the city Saturday night.
Bottoms announced the officers’ firings Sunday, calling their handling of the incident “very disturbing.”
“Our officers are working very long hours are under a very high amount of stress,” she said at a news conference, according to local station WSB-TV. “But the use of force is never acceptable.”
Three other officers also involved in the arrest have been placed on desk duty pending an investigation, the mayor said.
Bottoms ordered the firings of officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter after reviewing bodycam video of the incident with Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Both officers were investigators with the department’s fugitive squad, an APD spokesman told the newspaper.
The arrests occurred after officers said they made several attempts to stop a car during protests sparked by the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd., Floyd, 46, died in police custody May 26 after an officer, along with at least three others, knelt on his neck and body for several minutes.
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Mayor Bottoms had earlier announced a 9 p.m. curfew after violent protests in the city the night before.
Once pulled over, video shows, several officers swarm the vehicle and forcefully drag the occupants — 20-year-old Spelman College student Taniyah Pilgrim and 22-year-old Morehouse College graduate Messiah Young — from the car.
An officer is seen using a baton to break the driver’s side window while another officer flings open the passenger’s side door and orders Pilgrim out before deploying his taser, according to police body cam video. Part of the arrest was also captured by local outlets covering the protests live on air.sonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
“I don’t know what’s going on!,” Pilgrim screams. “Stop! Stop. Okay I’m getting out, I’m getting out!”
In another body camera video reviewed by local station CBS46, one of the officers is heard shouting, “He’s (Young) got a gun!” The young man was also tasered by police before being forcefully removed from the car.
No gun was recovered at the scene, the news station reported.
“These are good guys,” Shields said of the now-fired officers on Sunday. “I know them as individuals. I’ve worked with the one for over 20 years. But they made that level of mistake that cannot be rolled back.”
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Department records obtained by the AJC show Gardner, a 23-year police veteran, had previous complaints of excessive force dating to 2016. Two of the complaints alleged “maltreatment or unnecessary force” by the then-officer while two others were for violations of APD’s personal weapons policy, according to the newspaper.
Video of the students’ arrest sparked outrage online, and prompted calls for an investigation from the Atlanta University Center Consortium.
“It’s clear that the behavior of law enforcement in this country must change,” a statement signed by the presidents at Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta University read. “While we understand the need to maintain order, the abusive behavior reported to us is completely unacceptable. Today, we have spoken to Atlanta Mayor Bottoms and to Atlanta Police Chief Shields to request a thorough investigation and appropriate action.”
Both students have since been released from police custody, according to the mayor.
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