ATLANTA — Atlanta police had no justification for pulling two students from their car and hitting them with stun guns while they were stuck in traffic caused by protests over George Floyd’s death, a lawsuit filed Thursday says.
The federal lawsuit by Taniyah Pilgrim and Messiah Young — students at historically Black colleges in Atlanta — accuses police of assault and false arrest and says one officer dangerously escalated the confrontation by falsely claiming the pair had a gun.
“Accountability is what relieves pain and brings peace, and unfortunately there has been no accountability,” Mawuli Mel Davis, an attorney for Young, said.
The suit names the city, nine officers and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as defendants. The mayor’s office said it had not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment.
Video of the May 2020 confrontation — shared widely online — shows officers shouting at Pilgrim and Young, firing Tasers at them and dragging them from the car. The pair can be heard screaming and asking what they did wrong.
They were heading home on May 30 during a curfew declared hours earlier by Bottoms when an officer instructed Young, 23, to leave the area, according to the suit. Young — unaware of the curfew — moved forward a few yards to comply with the officer but was again stuck in traffic, the suit says.
He 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, 21.
Police swarmed the vehicle, and one officer repeatedly shouted that they had a gun, though he had no reason to believe that, according to the suit. The suit claims another officer responded by pulling out and aiming his gun at Young and dragging him violently out of the vehicle and slamming him to the ground.
Young was punched repeatedly and suffered a deep laceration to his arm that required 13 stitches, according to his attorneys.
Another officer said concern about a gun led him to hit Pilgrim with a stun gun, according to the suit.
“There was no gun. There was no weapon,” attorney L. Chris Stewart, who represents Pilgrim, said. “Yet he screamed multiple times from a distance, ‘He’s got a gun,’ which could have gotten these kids killed.”
Attorneys played video of the encounter at a news conference announcing the suit. Young turned his head away from the screen, and Pilgrim dabbed tears from her eyes.
Bottoms and then-Police Chief Erika Shields decided two officers had used excessive force and should be fired immediately, though those decisions were overturned earlier this year. At least two other officers named in the suit are no longer with Atlanta police.
Prosecutors have filed criminal charges against six officers in the incident.
Young and Pilgrim said they have had trouble moving on with their lives.
“Everyday, I’m reminded of something from that night,” Young said.
Pilgrim 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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