2 Atlanta police officers charged with assault during protests sue, seeking jobs back

The two officers were fired after video of officers pulling people from a car showed what the mayor called an excessive use of force during protests.
Image: Still frame from Atlanta Police Department bodycam video footage of police officer Ivory Streeter, shows car driver Messiah Young being shot by a taser, during ongoing protests against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Atl
A still frame from Atlanta Police Department bodycam video of police Officer Ivory Streeter shows car driver Messiah Young being shot by a stun gun during protests in Atlanta on May 30, 2020.Atlanta Police Department / Reuters

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By Phil Helsel

Two Atlanta police officers who were fired and criminally charged in connection with the pulling of two college students from a car during protests late last month have filed a lawsuit seeking their jobs back.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced May 31 that the two officers, Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner, would be fired immediately after what she called "an excessive use of force."

The suit, which says the officers were denied due process, seeks the reinstatement of both officers and back pay.

Video showed officers forcibly pulling Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim from their car around 9:40 p.m. May 30 during protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Pilgrim is heard in the video asking officers what is going on and crying that she is trying to get out before a stun gun appears to be used against her. Young, who also had a stun gun used on him, was yanked from the car and suffered a fractured arm, the county prosecutor has said.

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The fired officers' lawsuit contends that "their use of force was proper and in compliance with the law, the policies of the Atlanta Police Department, prevailing standards of law enforcement, and the training provided to them through the City of Atlanta Police Department and the State of Georgia."

Requests for comment from the police department about the lawsuit were not immediately returned Monday night. Late Monday, the mayor's office directed questions to the city's law department.

Bottoms said May 31 that body camera video led to the decision to fire the two officers. In total, six officers were involved. The other officers, who have since been charged, have been placed on desk duty pending a further determination of what disciplinary action they might face.

Shields, the police chief, said May 31 that officers were being pelted with rocks and other objects but that that does not relieve police of their responsibilities. She called the video "shocking to watch."

Shields said that she had hoped body camera video would provide more context but that after reviewing it, "I knew that I had only one option, and that is to terminate the employees."

The fired officers' lawsuit states that they were dismissed without an investigation, proper notice or a pre-disciplinary hearing and that the firings were against city code.

Streeter and Gardner served as investigators with the Atlanta Police Department's fugitive unit and were assisting with civil disturbances in the city, police have said.

Streeter had been with the department for 16 years and Gardner for 22 years, police have said.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said last week that Pilgrim, the owner of the car, had a stun gun used on her and that she was restrained with zip ties but was never charged.

Young had a stun gun used on him and was yanked from the car, suffering a fractured arm, Howard said, before he had a stun gun used on him again. Howard said Young began to leave the car as ordered by police before the incident. Young was charged, but the charges were dismissed at the order of the mayor.

Streeter has been charged with aggravated assault and pointing or aiming a gun or pistol at another person; Gardner is facing an aggravated assault charge, according to court documents.

Ali Gostanian contributed.