Five police officers in Atlanta have been booked on felony charges and another on lesser charges after video showed them using excessive force in arresting two college students returning from a protest over police violence.
District Attorney Paul Howard announced aggravated assault, simple battery, and criminal damage to property charges against the officers following the arrests of Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim Saturday.
Young and Pilgrim — students at Spelman and Morehouse, two historically black colleges — were returning from an Atlanta-area protest when video shows the six officers broke through their car windows, pulling Pilgrim from the vehicle and deploying a taser on Young.
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said she spent four hours watching video of the encounter and concluded her department was "in the wrong."
"We gave conflicting instructions; we didn't allow the driver or passenger a chance to respond — we created chaos and we escalated a low-level encounter into a space where we introduced violence," Shields said.
Although she fired the officers, she objected to the introduction of criminal charges against them in an internal memo.
"The officers were fired because I felt that is what had to occur," Shields wrote. "This does not mean for a moment that I will sit quietly by and watch our employees get swept up in the tsunami of political jockeying during an election year."
Shields was not alone in her objection to the charges. Vince Champion, Southeast Regional Director of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, called them "premature."
"We are asking the same thing that we ask, that everybody asks, for citizens," Champion said. "They have their time to have investigations. They were given no due process."
In the official police report of the encounter, the officer who tased Young said that he did so when he became concerned that either Pilgrim or Young were armed.
"I heard officers say gun two-three times," the officer wrote. "Not being able to see the hands of the passenger and being that she was in my immediate sight, I deployed my city-issued taser to defuse the situation."
The victims said they feared they were going to be killed.
➡️ Go Further: Follow Disrn's full coverage of the protests and riots here.