Six Atlanta police officers are facing a slew of charges for their role in the arrest of two young people last weekend. The incident, during which officers used stun guns on the pair and pulled them from their vehicle, received national attention after bystanders recorded and posted video to social media.
"I agree with Mayor [Keisha Lance] Bottoms and I agree with our police chief, Erika Shields, when they both have conveyed in so many separate ways that the conduct in this incident — it is not indicative of the way that we treat people in the city of Atlanta," Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters Tuesday.
Howard's office has filed charges — mostly assorted aggravated assault and battery counts — against a half-dozen officers involved in the arrest: Lonnie Hood, Willie Sauls, Ivory Streeter, Mark Gardner, Armond Jones and Roland Claud. Streeter and Gardner have been fired from the force since Saturday's confrontation, while three others have been placed on desk duty.
Howard said the charges are backed up by extensive interviews with the young couple, Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young, as well as video evidence from bystanders and the officers' body camera footage.
The district attorney played one such video from a bodycam. During the video, officers on foot confront Pilgrim and Young, who had been passing them in a car. After the two black occupants appear to drive away briefly from the officers, Pilgrim and Young stop — at which point the officers swarm the vehicle. Stun guns are used on both occupants, who are ripped from the car over Pilgrim's screams to stop.
Pilgrim was never charged; Young was charged with attempting to elude officers before the charge was dismissed at the request of the mayor, who apologized.
"We just need to see that all officers are held accountable, and that there really is change moving forward within the culture of policing," Young said at a news conference.
Atlanta and other cities have seen widespread protests over the past week after another video — that of George Floyd's arrest in Minneapolis — catalyzed outrage over violence in policing. Floyd died after Derek Chauvin — who has since been fired from the Minneapolis police and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter — dug a knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes.
Video of the incident involving Pilgrim and Young caused a stir of its own.
"We understand our officers are working very long hours under an enormous amount of stress," the Atlanta mayor said Sunday, describing the video as "disturbing on many levels."
"But we also understand that the use of excessive force is never acceptable."
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In dozens of cities yesterday, large, mostly peaceful demonstrations devolved into chaos. In Nashville, Miami, Seattle and Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, New York and, frankly, too many other places to name, protesters expressed their rage at the death of George Floyd, police brutality and racism. There were violent confrontations with police, and police cracked down, also violently. There were also mass arrests and injuries among demonstrators, journalists and police. At least a dozen major cities declared curfews. Others called on the National Guard, which has been historically used in response to major civil unrest. There were scenes of National Guard marching through some residential neighborhoods, ordering people to stay inside. We go now to Los Angeles, where members of the National Guard were also deployed overnight and a curfew was put in place as a state of emergency was declared. NPR's Nathan Rott is in LA, and he joins us now. Nate, walk us through what happened yesterday.
NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: So there was a massive peaceful protest that started around noon yesterday. It was in the Fairfax district in west L.A., which is kind of a trendy neighborhood with high-end retail and a big outdoor mall. And people were protesting against police violence, as they are all over the country. They were memorializing George Floyd, the black man who died after being pinned to the ground by Minneapolis police officers. And, you know, by all accounts, it was peaceful, respectful until a little later in the afternoon, when we started seeing reports of police cars being set on fire and just a total breakdown in the situation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This often happens at protests, right? When things shift as things go into the night. Do we know what happened?
ROTT: Yeah. And that - honestly, that was a little surprising, Lulu. Usually, these, like, shifts do happen at night. And this started in broad daylight in mid-afternoon, which is, I think, very concerning to a lot of the city officials. So, you know, on social media, people were blaming the police for escalating tensions, for responding with tear gas and the sort of militarized riot gear that has become so commonplace around the country. City officials have so far blamed bad eggs in the crowd for setting things off, and that's something we've been hearing in a lot of places - that it's a small group of people who are agitating these situations. Of course, that's now been politicized, even with the U.S. attorney general blaming anarchists and leftists without, you know, providing any proof of that. But it's really hard to say what makes this situations shift. Tensions are obviously very high, so it doesn't take much to spark something.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: No, it doesn't. We saw videos of looting and fires in many cities around the country last night. That was also the case in LA, right?
ROTT: Yeah. A number of retail stores in that Fairfax area were broken into. Goods were stolen. Some were set on fire. I know firefighters were dealing with those fires throughout the night. That prompted LA's mayor, Eric Garcetti, to announce a citywide curfew, which caught a lot of people off guard because he announced it an hour before it went into effect. But here he is explaining why they did it and alluding to violent protests in 1992 following Rodney King.
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ERIC GARCETTI: We've seen this before in Los Angeles. When the violence escalates, no one wins. And so everybody has to be responsible for owning this moment. Whether you wear a badge or whether you hold a sign, I'm asking all of Los Angeles to take a deep breath and to step back for a moment.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does it seem like the curfew worked briefly?
ROTT: Yeah, the crowds started to thin out even before the curfew started. I know in other parts of the state - Sacramento, San Diego - there were large confrontations between crowds and police. I think, you know, it's going to be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of days.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Nate Rott in LA. Thank you so much.
ROTT: Yeah. Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.