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Two students sue City of Atlanta over 2020 arrest

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Messiah Young and his girlfriend Taniyah Pilgrim still feel the effects of an arrest that took place in 2020 when Atlanta police pulled the students out of their car and hit them with tasers while they were stuck in traffic caused by protests over George Floyd’s death. Now they suffer from trauma, anxiety, and pain. 

The students were driving near a George Floyd protest when they were targeted and forcibly removed from their vehicle. Body-camera footage released by police shows officers smashing through the driver’s side window and snatching Young, 23, and Pilgrim, 21, out of the vehicle. The pair can be heard screaming and asking what they did wrong. 

The federal lawsuit by the students of Morehouse College and Spelman College accuses police of assault and false arrest and says one officer dangerously escalated the confrontation by falsely claiming they had a gun.

The suit indicates they both were heading home on May 30 during a curfew declared hours earlier. An officer instructed Young to leave the area and he moved forward a few yards to comply with the officer but was again stuck in traffic, according to the document. Just before the arrest, Young had been filming police confronting someone else on the side of the street, and the suit claims the officer retaliated by going after him and Pilgrim.

Filed Thursday (June 17,) the lawsuit names the city of Atlanta, Police Chief Rodney Bryant, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and nine police officers who were associated with the arrest that can be seen on the footage. 

Attorney Harold Spence calls the lawsuit an “accountability action” and there never stood a time where “excessive force” and physical restraint were necessary. “No officer intervened that night,” Spence continued. “In fact, they became part of the maniacal feeding frenzy.”

“There was no gun. There was no weapon,” attorney L. Chris Stewart, who represents Pilgrim, said. “Yet he screamed (an officer) multiple times from a distance, ‘He’s got a gun,’ which could have gotten these kids killed.”

A day after the incident, former Police Chief Erika Shields was fired along with officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter. In total six officers have been charged in connection. 

The termination of the officers was reversed, as the city of Atlanta Civil Service Board discovered violations of city policies and other violations that resulted in two police officers’ fair process of rights. 

“Every day, I’m reminded of something from that night,” Young said in the press conference of this week. She said she experiences anxiety and nightmares.

“It’s like life took a total turn for something that we didn’t ask to be involved with,” she said.

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