Two Atlanta Police officers who lost their jobs last year when they used tasers on two Black college students during the confusion of demonstrations against police violence were reinstated Monday (Feb. 1) on grounds that the city did not follow proper procedure.
Officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter were fired a day after the May 31 incident in which they encountered Spelman College student Taniyah Pilgrim, 20, and Morehouse College student Messiah Young, 22 who were reportedly caught in traffic after a 9 p.m. curfew in Atlanta.
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Body camera footage shows one of the officers attempting to remove Young, fracturing his arm. Both of the students were thrown to the ground, tasered by the officers and then arrested. When the video became public, it added to the outrage sweeping the nation over police violence involving African Americans. The next day, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms fired Gardner and Streeter.
Both men, however, argued that they were terminated without an investigation and that their use of force was not illegal. Apparently the Atlanta Civil Service Board believed them, ruling the city “did not follow the personnel regulations of the Atlanta Code of Ordinances in the dismissal” of the officers, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Lance LoRusso, the officers’ attorney said they were afraid the students had a firearm in their car, which was later determined to be untrue. Still, he said the officers were not given the customary five days to respond to the accusations of unlawful use of force.
“Lawful use of force is never going to look good on video,” LoRusso told the AJC. “You have to be trained to understand why the officers were doing what they were doing. There was a clear rush to judgement.”
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Former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, who resigned in June after the fatal police shooting of Rayshard Brooks, testified to the board that the firings happened in a highly unusual situation.
“The circumstances were exceptional,” Shields said, adding that there was a fear that the arrest of the students would create more anger at police. “We did, I did, what I had to do to make sure the city was stabilized.”
Garner was a 23 year veteran of the APD, while Streeter had 16 years on the force. Although they are eligible to return to work, they could still face an internal investigation, the AJC reports.
Bottoms office did not respond to the AJC’s request for comment.
Photo credit: @imactuallynina, CNN