Law enforcement agencies at local colleges are looking at their policies regarding the use of force in response to the recent fatal shooting of a Georgia Tech student by a university police officer.
Scout Schultz, 21, of Lilburn, was killed late Saturday night after the fourth-year computer and biomedical engineering student called 911 to report an armed and possibly intoxicated suspicious person.
Jim Lyon, the chief of police for the Augusta University Police Department, said the incident gives insight into the difficulties officers face when they’re placed in a potentially hostile situation.
“Each individual situation is different,” he said. “So when officers respond, they have to take those situations on the merits that is presented at the time and it is very difficult to kind of anticipate what somebody might do, especially if they are carrying a gun or a knife.”
Georgia Tech officers responded to the 911 call made at 11:17 p.m. Sept. 16 and one shot Schultz as the student advanced on them with what seemed to be a knife. A report released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation states officers gave verbal commands and tried to speak with Schultz, but he would not comply. It states that Schultz was armed with a multipurpose tool, but that the knife blade was not out.
Schultz’s family said he had been struggling with mental health issues and three suicide notes were found in his dormitory.His mother said she believed stress over school could have prompted Saturday’s encounter with police. They have questioned whether lethal force was necessary.
Lyon described the situation as “very precarious” in which officers had split-seconds to make the decision on whether lethal force should have been used. He said his 52 officers practice such procedures.
His officers undergo training that teaches alternative methods in the use of force for people suspected of having mental illnesses.
“Our officers understand our policy with respect to dealing with de-escalation of mentally ill individuals,” he said. “One of the things that our department has done in the last year is develop a Personal Standards Division within our department, which is responsible for training of police officers in our department and developing those policies.
“When we are dealing with somebody with mental illness, our officers are trained to be able to detect the signs and respond appropriately to de-escalate situations, if at all possible.”
Chief Kevin Liles, of the University of South Carolina Aiken Police Department, said his officers are trained and equipped to avert injuries.
“As state-certified law enforcement officers, the USC Aiken Police Department receives training to respond to many different situations,” he said. “Whenever possible, our approach is to make every attempt to establish a dialogue to prevent harm to anyone.”
He said training includes determining whether force is neccesary.
“We are trained and equipped to evaluate and respond to emergencies as they arise,” Liles said. “In every situation, decisions are made with all parties’ safety and security in mind.”
Officers at USC Aiken are “equipped just as members of other state law enforcement agencies are,” Liles said.
Lyon said officers at Augusta University are equipped with a stun gun and a baton. He said the weapons ensure alternative methods are carried out in situations similar to the Georgia Tech shooting. He believes the methods have been useful.
Georgia Tech officers do not carry stun guns, according to media reports.
“It can be difficult for our officers to be the guardian and all of a sudden, at a moment’s notice, have to turn into the warrior and do the things that they need to do to protect the public,” he said. “We try our best to de-escalate those situations and make sure we get the person the help that they need.”
Lyon said there have been a few instances during which officers used a stun gun, but did not receive a response from the suspect and therefore had to use hand-to-hand combat.
“And that puts the officer at risk,” he said.