Friends and family said they saw no signs Scout Schultz was under great mental strain before the 21-year-old engineering student was shot dead Saturday night by Georgia Tech police.
“I just saw Scout on Thursday, we were planning a board game night,” said Aby Parsons, a friend of Scout’s. “They (Scout) were saying, ‘Wow these are really good board games.’ That was Thursday night. I had not seen anything to lead me to think this could happen.”
But new information from the GBI reveals that Schultz, who attempted suicide two years ago using a belt as a makeshift noose, was determined to succeed this time, with campus police enlisted as unwitting accomplices. The GBI said Monday they found three suicide notes in Schultz’s room.
And Schultz — who identified as nonbinary, neither male or female, and utilizes “they” as the preferred pronoun — set the wheels in motion with a call to 911 late Saturday night reporting “a suspicious person on campus” …. “a white male, with long blonde hair, white T-shirt and blue jeans who is possibly intoxicated, holding a knife and possibly armed with a gun on his hip,” according to the GBI.
Four officers initially responded, engaging Schultz and, initially, attempting to de-escalate a tense situation. Schultz was armed only with a multi-purpose tool that included a small blade. It was not extended. And there was no gun.
Police ordered the campus activist to drop the pocket knife. In a video capturing the incident Schultz can be heard responding, “Shoot me!” Schultz also ignored officer’s commands to stand in place, moving slowly towards the four officers who surrounded the Lilburn native.
Roughly 20 feet separated them when one of the officers, who has not been identified, fired his gun. The bullet landed in Schultz’s chest. Thirty minutes later, Schultz was pronounced dead.
The shooting has sent shock waves through the Tech community. On Monday night a vigil was planned, hosted, in part by the school’s LGBTQIA Resource Center. (That stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual).
The latest twist in this complex story changes nothing about the shooting itself, said attorney Chris Stewart, retained by Schultz’s parents.
“You can’t shoot someone even if they want you to,” Stewart said.
It’s a question facing GBI investigators as they attempt to determine whether the officer who killed Scout had, in that split second, a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was warranted.
For Schultz’s parents, the bigger question was why deadly force was even considered. Why not use a Taser instead?
“Why did you have to shoot?” Scout’s father, Bill Schultz asked at a news conference Monday. “That’s the only question that matters right now. Why did you kill my son?”
Tech officials said its officers are not equipped with Tasers but would not elaborate on the reason for that decision. It’s a similar story nationwide.
While nearly all of the campuses that employed sworn police officers authorized them to use a sidearm, 94 percent in all, only 40 percent of these agencies authorized their sworn officers to use a conducted energy device, such as a Taser, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In Georgia, campuses have the discretion to determine if officers should carry Tasers, a spokesman with the University System of Georgia said Monday.
At Georgia State University, officers carry firearms and, as less than lethal force options, pepper spray and batons, said campus police Chief Joe Spillane. They don’t yet have Tasers but the department, which just started a pilot program involving a sampling of officers, eventually plans to equip its entire force with the devices, Spillane said.
“It’s insane,” Stewart said. “You’re on a college campus. You’re going to be dealing with kids who may be drinking, may be belligerent, may not be listening, may be having a mental breakdown. And the only thing you equip your officers with is a gun?”
Schultz’s family also questioned whether the officer who shot their oldest child was properly trained to deal with suspects who have mental health issues. According to the state university system spokesman, many campus officers under its purview are educated, through the GBI’s Crisis Intervention Training, on how to handle such cases.
Shootings on college campus are rare. The last one in Georgia occurred in 2014 when a Columbus State officer, retired from the Columbus Police Department, shot and killed Zikarious Flint, who was visiting the campus.
A Muscogee County grand jury recommended against pursuing criminal charges. CSU Police Sgt. Ben Scott was not sanctioned by CSU after an internal review found he didn’t violate university policy.
CSU officials said Flint was carrying a loaded pistol after three university police officers chased him across campus.
The lawyer for Flint’s family disputed this account, saying he was not carrying any type of weapon.
Prosecutions of officer-involved shootings in Georgia are rarer still. A 2015 investigation by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News showed that in more than 180 fatal shootings over five years by police officers in the state, none had resulted in criminal charges against the officer.
The threshold for indictments is low. The fact that a knife was used, and commands were not obeyed, created that “reasonable belief” for the officer that his life was in danger, said Lance LoRusso, a former officer who is not legal counsel for the state police union.
Schultz’s parents said they are familiar with the statistics.
“We do want justice but it is what it is,” Bill Schultz said.
Stewart said the family will be filing a civil lawsuit against Georgia Tech.
-Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer Ariel Hart contributed to this story