On Saturday September 16, Georgia Tech student and LBGTQ activist Scout Schultz was killed by Georgia Tech Police in a late-night confrontation. Schultz was apparently holding a closed “folding type” knife (according to an attorney retained by the Shultz family). An obviously distressed Schultz was asked or ordered to put the knife down repeatedly during a short standoff with campus police caught on video. The situation in Atlanta is unique as it involves deadly force by an apparently multi-racial enforcement response by a campus police force. That team’s training and use of deadly force will be severely called into question as the situation progresses in coming weeks.
Details are still emerging as to the mental state of Schultz or what prompted the incident. At this stage, it is unknown whether drugs or alcohol played a factor in Schultz’ death. The 911 call received by GTP has now been made public. That call was placed by someone identifying themselves as Scott Schultz. Scout Schultz apparently called in a 911 distress call on himself. In that call, Schultz stated he had seen or encountered a White male with long blond hair, white t-shirt, and jeans. He stated the person was holding a knife in his hand and what looked like a gun on his hip. He said it appeared the person “might be drunk or something”.
Scout Schultz committed suicide by cop. A term used to describe someone intentionally putting themselves in a position where police may be forced to end the suspect’s life to protect the public or the officer’s own safety. Scout Schultz had reportedly attempted suicide a year earlier but that attempt obviously was not successful. Current estimates suggest that as many as 10% of people killed by police officers intentionally and knowingly placed themselves into a position where a cop would have no choice. In these instances, people do not want to end their own lives or are afraid they may fail in their efforts. The officer or officers involved in suicide by cop incidents often suffer emotional distress and some develop post-traumatic stress syndrome.
But did it have to end this way?
On Saturday night Officer Tyler Beck made the fateful decision to end the life of Scout Schultz. Beck had reportedly been on the job with the Georgia Tech Police Force for approximately 16 months. Georgia Tech Police training follows the Georgia POST guidelines which govern police agencies throughout the state. Research shows there are ongoing training requirements for all officers under POST certified programs and there are requirements for community outreach, de-escalation training, and cultural awareness. Though it appears these requirements are somewhat elective as only 2 hours per year are required to fulfill the “community” aspect of recertification. It is unclear if POST requires or offers training in responding to situations requiring Crisis Intervention Team or CIT training.
Georgia Tech is refusing to release any personnel records on Beck (who is currently on administrative leave pending an investigation into the fatal shooting). A search of POST records show Beck as having completed 492 hours of training in 2016 and 64 hours thus far in 2017. According to the records none of the training hours spent by Beck included CIT or training specifically for dealing with people in mental crisis or mental illness. From the phone call and the video of the shooting itself, it is clear Schultz went into the encounter intending to force the hands of the police. But did the officer in question need to comply? Should Beck have recognized the situation as it played out in front of him?
The Schultz family wonder why their honor student child had to die. A campus of 25,000 students has erupted in violent protest over what they claim was an unjustified shooting of their friend and compatriot. Scout Schultz had a 3.9 GPA as a senior at Georgia Tech, majoring in Bio-Engineering. They knew what they were doing. Why didn’t Officer Tyler Beck? Social media has exploded on both sides of the Schultz killing. People claim, “this is what you get” for not abiding an officer’s demands. “He should have just dropped the knife”, say others.
The family’s attorney states the “knife” is a multi-purpose tool which happens to have a “tiny blade” as part of the set. Did Officer Beck see this as a deadly weapon? Or was he more worried about the reported possibility of a gun being involved (though he could not and did not ever see one). Schultz had been sure to plant that seed during the 911 call.
This leads us back to the training methodology currently used with our police agencies across the country. Immediately after the shooting of Scout Schultz, a Georgia Tech Police spokesperson was asked why pepper spray was not used or perhaps a Taser?
Department spokesperson stated that the GT Police do not possess these equipment or options. A police Force put in place with the sole purpose of overseeing a college campus, not an inner-city area but a community of young college students, does not have a single non-lethal solution at their disposal? But they have guns. They have plenty of them. Officers are required to spend more time re-certifying on handguns, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper training than they are on “community” or “de-escalation” methods.
But Beck didn’t take part in the more extensive, 40-hour CIT course that since 2004 has trained nearly 11,000 law enforcement officers statewide. The course is recommended for 20% of all officers throughout Georgia. Actually, Powell said, Georgia Tech slightly outperforms state recommendations for the course, since 22 of its 89 officers, or about 25%, are trained in CIT.
The tragedy in the events at Georgia Tech are many and they will be long lasting. Scout Schultz did not need to die, whether or not that was their intention. The lives of Officer Tyler Beck, the victim’s family, their fellow students and activists, and the rest of us that never knew them are all affected. Hope arises from tragedy, however. The hope in this case is that law enforcement and lawmakers start to take a closer look at the way we are training our officers. The hope is that we get the proper tools and training in place to guarantee all non-lethal methods of de-escalation are available. The hope is that we see standards and practices put into place where EVERY law enforcement officer on the street is trained in CIT and mental illness awareness and procedure.
Suicide by cop simply cannot happen. Not with a student on a crowded campus who is a threat more to himself than the officers they called to assist him. Schultz’ 911 call was a call for help. Their cries of “shoot me” ringing in their ears, officers on the scene needed to reach out to Scout. Not oblige by pulling the trigger.
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