Students attacked by APD officers speak out: ‘We felt like we were going to die in that car’

Pilgrim and Young speak at a June 1 press conference. (Courtesy WSB)

The Morehouse and Spelman students brutally tased and removed from a car in Downtown during the May 30 protests spoke out Monday evening surrounded by family and legal counsel.

The incident was caught on video widely circulated on social media that showed five officers using excessive force to arrest Morehouse student Messiah Young, 22, and Spelman student Taniyah Pilgrim, 20, on International Boulevard near Centennial Olympic Park. Footage from one of the body cameras worn by an officer is available at this link, but be warned it is graphic.

Two of the five officers – APD Fugitive Unit Investigators Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter  – were fired on May 31, while the other three have been assigned desk duty pending further disciplinary action. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced he is reviewing the case for criminal charges against the officers.

The students said they were not part of the George Floyd protests nor did they know about the curfew hastily called by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Saturday night. Their attorneys said the students were on a date getting food and got caught up in traffic.

Pilgrim thanked supporters and described the incident as the most traumatic thing that had ever happened in her life. “If the cameras weren’t there we don’t know what might happened,” Pilgrim said then apologized to the public who had to witness the “disgusting” video images of her arrest.

Young, who was driving the car, spent the night in jail despite having the taser prongs embedded in his back, a fractured arm, and in need of 20 stitches. He appeared at the press conference wearing a cast.

Young thanked his “support system” of AUC students and family. “At the end of the day, it’s a blessing that I’m alive and can talk with you and express what is occurring at this moment. This is a long fight. I’s not just about me or us, it’s about an entire generation dealing with brutality and injustice because of the color of their skin, preferences or originality. We will get through this together.”

Young’s attorney, Mawuli Davis, said his client and Pilgrim had never been arrested and refuted reports that there was a gun or drugs in the car. Davis said he believed the couple was targeted because they were filming the protests happening around them.

Mayor Bottoms said when she announced the firing of the officers that charges against Young and Pilgrim would be dropped. Davis said he had yet to see the paperwork but would work to make sure his client’s arrest record was expunged.

Pilgrim said another officer, which she identified as Officer A. Jones, also deserved to be fired or charged. “Officer Jones was disgusting and did the worst thing imaginable. He said he was going to shoot us. We felt like we were going to die in that car.

Pilgrim, who was not charged, said she sat for hours in a jail bus and was refused a protective mask to prevent spread of COVID-19 even when she told officers she had asthma.

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