A Georgia Institute of Technology campus police officer shot to death the president of Pride Alliance, the school’s LGBT student group, shortly before midnight on Saturday, Sept. 16, during an incident in which police say the student approached officers with a knife in a threatening way.
Campus police at the Atlanta-based school, commonly known as Georgia Tech, released a statement saying Scout Schultz, 21, a fourth year computer engineering student, ignored repeated requests to drop what appeared to be an unopened pocket knife minutes before being shot.
Schultz’s mother, Lynn Schultz, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Scout Schultz was suffering from depression. She faulted police for using lethal force rather than taking steps to diffuse a confrontation involving someone with mental health issues.
“I think (Scout) was having a mental breakdown and didn’t know what to do,” the Journal-Constitution quoted Chris Stewart, an attorney representing Schultz’s parents, as saying. “The area was secure. There was no one around at risk,” Stewart told the Journal-Constitution.
Campus police said they responded to a 911 call from someone who saw Schultz walking barefoot on campus while holding a knife and a gun at about 11:17 p.m. on Sept. 16. When police arrived Schultz was holding the knife, and there was no evidence of a gun, according to follow-up police statements.
The Journal-Constitution and Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News reported at least two students who witnessed the incident recorded part of it on video with their phones from their dormitory windows. In one of the videos Schultz can be heard shouting “Shoot me!” to the four officers on the scene, the TV news station reported.
Officers can be heard on one of the videos shouting repeatedly, “Nobody wants to hurt you. Drop the knife,” the newspaper reported.
A photo obtained from another video recording published by the Journal-Constitution shows what appeared to be an unopened utility or pocket knife lying on the ground after the shooting.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, an independent statewide law enforcement agency, announced it has opened an investigation into the shooting at the request of Georgia Tech officials. It said it would turn over its findings to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for review.
“Officers provided multiple verbal commands and attempted to speak with Schultz who was not cooperative and would not comply with the officer’s commands,” the law enforcement agency said in a Sept. 17 statement.
“Schultz continued to advance on the officers with the knife,” the statement says. “Subsequently, one of the officers fired striking Schultz. Schultz was transported to Grady Memorial Hospital where he died,” the statement says, adding that an autopsy was being conducted by its Medical Examiner’s Office in Decatur, Ga.
In a self-prepared biographical statement still posted on the website of the Georgia Tech Pride Alliance, for which Schultz served as president for the past two years, Schultz stated, “I’m bisexual, nonbinary, and intersex” and prefers to be referred to by the pronouns “they/them.”
Jeff Graham, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality, said he has seen no evidence to indicate Schultz was singled out for improper treatment by police or others on campus because Schultz self-identified as non-binary, intersex, or an LGBT person.
“Our immediate reaction is that this is a very tragic situation,” he told the Washington Blade. “Our thoughts are with Scout’s family, Scout’s friends at the Georgia Tech community, especially the LGBTQIA community at Georgia Tech. This is just a horrific tragedy that has befallen them.”
In addition to serving as president of the Georgia Tech Pride Alliance, Schultz has been “a leader in the local community in terms of making Georgia Tech as well as the surrounding Atlanta community better for LGBTQIA individuals,” Graham said.
“On its surface this does seem like an overreaction with a student that seems to have had some mental health issues,” Graham said. “Why wasn’t this officer better trained in de-escalation efforts?” he asked in discussing the police handling of the matter. “And it should be troubling to all people to think that a student that was having challenges was met with this level of deadly force.”
Georgia Tech’s president and dean of students posted messages of condolence over Schultz’s death on the school’s website.
“Scout’s sudden and tragic death today has been devastating news for the Schultz family and classmates – and for members of the community who knew Scout personally, the shock and grief are particularly acute,” said John Stein, Georgia Tech’s dean of students and vice president for Student Life.
The Pride Alliance also posted a message on its own website calling Schultz the “driving force” behind the group for the past two years who “pushed us to do more events and a larger variety of events, and we would not be the organization we are known as without their constant hard work and dedication.”
A vigil to honor Schultz’s life was scheduled to take place on the campus Monday night at 8 p.m.