Board finds LMPD’s new chief violated numerous ordinances while firing 2 Atlanta officers
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story stated the officers had been questioned without their attorneys present. However, it was later confirmed the officers did not get to be questioned after Shields declined to wait for their attorneys.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A board in Atlanta has delivered a blow to new LMPD Chief Erika Shields, stating she violated numerous city and police policies when she fired two officers without due process.
The two Atlanta police officers got their jobs back Monday after being involved in a controversial tasing incident involving two college students last year.
According to records, officers Mark Gardner and Ivory Streeter were fired the day after the incident and were not allowed legal representation, a violation of the law.
In a Civil Service Board hearing about the incident in January, the day after Shields was introduced as LMPD’s new chief, Shields acknowledged the officers did not have their attorneys present, when she was scheduled to meet with them. The officers refused to be questioned without their attorneys before Shields fired them.
“Mark Gardner came to work for 23 years and you couldn’t give him 20 minutes?” his attorney, Lance LoRusso asked Shields during a hearing on the case in January.
“That’s correct,” Shields responded.
Shields did not speak to the officers about the incident or why they had deployed their tasers. There was also no internal investigation prior to their termination.
“I did not hear from him,” Shields said during the hearing about Gardner.
“So the answer is no, you never asked them a single question, did you?” his attorney asked Shields.
“That’s correct,” she said.
Shields has stood by her decision to fire the officers, saying it was for the sake of keeping violence from escalating during rioting in the city.
“We were in such a tenuous state that, that the slightest thing was just, it was going to trigger rioting and protests,” Shields said during the hearing.
The documents also state the department did not give the officers the required notices prior to their terminations.
In a Civil Service Board hearing about the incident in January, the day after Shields was introduced as LMPD’s new chief, Shields acknowledged the officers did not have their attorneys present, before they were were questioned anyway.
Gardner and Streeter both were charged with excessive force.
The incident was captured on several videos. It showed the moments when a driver argued with an officer about the arrest of a friend during protests. The people in the vehicle were out past curfew by 40 minutes, the attorney for the officers said. As the man slowly continued to drive, another officer was heard yelling, “gun, gun, gun.”
The two people in the car, college students Taniya Pilgrim and Messiah Young, were pulled out of the vehicle and tased. The officers said they tased them because they feared for their lives, believing they were armed. No gun was found in the vehicle.
The incident led to further unrest in Atlanta, at a time last year when the city was already in the middle of protests related to social injustice.
“My actions were justified and I stand by my decision,” Shields said in a statement to WAVE 3 News on Tuesday.
Gardner had worked with APD for 23 years, while Street had served 17 years on the force.
LoRusso said both officers were highly trained and had received training in the use of tasers, use of force and de-escalation just weeks prior to the incident. He added that Gardner was an officer with the Fugitive Task Force and had received extensive training by the FBI.
“It says that in the investigation of this case, and discipline of the officers, (Shields) did not follow the proper procedures and ensure that they got due process,” LoRusso told WAVE 3 News Troubleshooters.
He added that the lack of an internal investigation is problematic because deficiencies or problems in policy could go unnoticed and unaddressed.
“The rush prevents the department from weeding out bad apples by firing them without an investigation,” LoRusso said.
Shields maintained the officers escalated the situation. The officers said Shields didn’t bother to find out.
“It hurt me to my core to see what was going on in the city at the time, and it hurt me even more that the leadership at the time was not prepared,” Gardner said during the hearing.
The Civil Service Board noted four specific code violations during the termination of the officers, including:
- An employee has to be given written notice of an adverse action at least 10 working days prior to the action
- The employee has to be given the opportunity to respond
- The employee has to be given the opportunity to work during the period of notice
- The employee may be suspended immediately if certain circumstances are met, but in this case, the board said, the city elected to dismiss and not suspend with pay
Copyright 2021 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.