ATLANTA - Two Atlanta college students seen on camera forcibly being pulled from their car Saturday night said they are grateful for all the support and that cameras were rolling when they were. The two spoke for the first time Monday flanked by lawyers the two retained.
Taniyah Pilgrim, a student at Spelman College, was riding with her friend, Messiah Young, a Morehouse College student, just after 9 p.m. on Saturday near Centennial Park in Atlanta. Officers could be seen surrounding their car, trying to get the pair out. Eventually, the driver-side window was smashed in by officers.
This is the most traumatic thing that has ever happened and has ever happened again in my life, I’m very shaken up I don’t even know how to act what to do,” said Pilgrim searching for words to describe what happened Saturday night. “I just can't stop thinking about if cameras weren't there or if they went a little bit further.”
“Officers threw Pilgrim to the ground, she landed face down in the pavement and they handcuffed her,” Atlanta-based attorney L. Chris Stewart wrote in a statement sent to FOX 5 News adding both had Tasers used on them. Stewart was retained by Pilgrim on Monday.
“These are children who were treated as if they had just robbed a bank or shot up a church,” said Stewart.
"He said he was going to shoot us," Pilgrim recounted one of the officers told her, admitting she is still trying to process what happened. "We felt like we were going to die in our car."
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms fired two of the five officers involved. The two officers have been identified as Inv. Mark Gardner and Inv. Ivory Streeter.
"There clearly was an excessive use of force. We understand that our officers are working very long hours under an enormous amount of stress, but we also understand that the use of excessive force is never acceptable," Bottoms said during a news conference Sunday evening.
Investigator Mark Gardner (left) and Inv. Ivory Streeter (right)
Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields specifically addressed the incident with the two college students on Sunday, stating that her officers had a responsibility not to escalate any incident.
"These folks are going out every day, they are getting pelted with rocks, knives thrown at them, ongoing gunshots, it really is an unpleasant space to be in. But that does not relieve us of our responsibilities. And we have a responsibility, when we handle any incident, not to escalate the incident and not to cause further harm or injury," Shields said.
“I’m sorry you all had to see something like this occur,” said Pilgram. “It’s disgusting.”
But the lawyers for the students said that doesn't go far enough.
"2020 is about God trying to open people's eyes. That’s really the only conclusion I can come to. Because so many eyes have been closed for so long," said L.Chris Stewart, who was retained by Pilgrim.
Young said he is grateful for all the support.
“This isn’t just about me,” said Morehouse student Messiah Young. “This is about an entire generation that has to deal with injustice.”
He has also retained criminal defense attorney Gary Spencer to help clear his name. Only Young was charged in the incident.
"These young people got caught up in a whirlwind, a perfect storm as Mr. Young has said to me, regarding a setting of a curfew, then the militarization of the police force with the backing of the national guard, with people who were not focused on how our young people were to get home safely, but instead making sure they were going to get theirs back after squad cars were set on fire. So, people were hurt Saturday, not just property," said Mawuli Davis, who was retained by Young.
During Monday’s news conference, the presidents of both Morehouse and Spelman College said they are outraged and angry about the incident. They announced they are standing in solidarity with their students.
“I’m here to voice my support for Messiah and Teniyah,” said David Thomas, Morehouse College President.
“What [Pilgram] recalled was one of the most horrible experiences I’ve ever heard,” said Dr. Mary Campbell, Spelman College President.
“During this time, I’m glad we have a support system that understands change needs to come,” said Young.
The remaining officers involved in the incident have been assigned to desk duty.