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Monday, Aug 02, 2021

Firings overturned for 2 officers who tasered Black students

Firings overturned for 2 officers who tasered Black students

Two Atlanta police officers who were fired after bodycam footage showed them pulling two Black college students from a car and using stun guns on them during last summer's protests have gotten their jobs back.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms confirmed Tuesday in a statement that the city's Civil Service Board had reversed the firings.

But "given the unrest across our city and nation at the time, and the disturbing video footage before us, I still believe that the right decision was made."

The board found that the dismissals of the two officers, Ivory Streeter and Mark Gardner, violated city and police department ordinances and policies regarding due process, according to an attorney for the officers, Lance J. LoRusso.

The city did not conduct an investigation through the Office of Professional Standards before the June 1 firings, which is required, LoRusso told NBC News.

Bodycam video taken during protests following the killing of George Floyd last May showed officers forcibly pulling two college students, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim, from their car. Pilgrim was heard asking what is going on and crying that she was trying to get out of the car before she was apparently hit with the electric current of a stun gun.

Pilgrim, a student at Spelman College, was not charged. Young, a student at Morehouse College, faced unspecified charges that were later dropped.

Streeter and Gardner were among six officers who were charged and four who were fired in connection with the incident, which Bottoms called “disturbing on many levels.”

Bottoms announced Streeter and Gardner's firings almost immediately after what she called "an excessive use of force."

The two officers later sued for reinstatement and back pay, saying that they were denied due process and that "their use of force was proper and in compliance with the law, the policies of the Atlanta Police Department, prevailing standards of law enforcement, and the training provided to them through the City of Atlanta Police Department and the State of Georgia."

They also said that they were dismissed without an investigation, proper notice or a pre-disciplinary hearing and that the firings were against city code.

During board hearings regarding the officers' firings, "evidence came to light that both officers had reason to reasonably believe, and in fact did believe, that there was a weapon in the vehicle," LoRusso said.

No gun was ever found.

Streeter and Gardner served as investigators with the Atlanta Police Department's fugitive unit and were assisting with civil disturbances in the city, police have said.

Streeter had been with the department for 16 years and Gardner for 22 years, police have said.

The two officers are still facing charges of aggravated assault.

Bottoms said Tuesday that the Civil Service Board "did not say that the officers' conduct was lawful."

"This incident, and others, have resulted in changes to our use-of-force policy, including de-escalation training and guidance on when and how to intervene in specific situations," Bottoms said. "It is my sincere hope that these policy changes and additional training for our officers will help eliminate the potentially life-threatening and deadly encounters that have happened in the past."

The charges have been sent from the district attorney to the Georgia attorney general due to a conflict, according to a Jan. 25 letter from the district attorney's office. The attorney general will appoint a substitute prosecutor.

Neither officer can report to full duty until the resolution of the criminal cases against them, LoRusso said. Once they return to work, they will be entitled to back pay and all accrued leave, he said.

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