A Georgia Tech senior was shot in the heart Saturday night because a campus police officer “overreacted,” the attorney for the student’s family said in a news conference Monday.
Georgia Tech Police officers responded to a 911 call that night of a person with a knife and a gun on the downtown Atlanta campus at 11:17 p.m. They encountered Scout Schultz, 21, barefoot and “disoriented” in the middle of a “mental breakdown,” attorney L. Chris Stewart said. Stewart has represented the families of other victims of police-involved shootings, including Alton Sterling and Walter Scott.
Cellphone video shows the officers repeatedly yelling at Schultz to put down the knife and not to move. In the video, after Schultz takes a few steps forward, an officer opens fire.
As allegations from the community of excessive force mounted, Stewart accused Georgia Tech of forcing the narrative that Schultz was a “knife-wielding” threat even though evidence suggests otherwise.
“Why did you have to shoot? That’s the question. That’s the only question that matters now,” Schultz’s father, Bill Schultz, said Monday. “Whatever happened shouldn’t have ended in a death.”
A community mourns
The shooting prompted mourning across Georgia Tech, where Schultz was known as a leader in the campus LGBTQ community as president of Georgia Tech Pride Alliance. According to a profile on the group’s website, Schultz identified as nonbinary and intersex and preferred the pronouns they and them.
Originally from the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn, Schultz was a fourth-year computer engineering major with a minor in biomedical engineering. Schultz’s father said they got a full ride to the top-ranked school and maintained a 3.9 GPA all these years with only two Bs. The pressures of school and activism weighed on Schultz, who struggled with depression and once attempted suicide, according to Bill Schultz and his lawyer. Schultz’s father said they spent this summer at home trying to decompress
The circumstances of Schultz’s death prompted calls from campus advocacy groups for more counseling and mental health resources on campus. The need is especially great for transgender and gender non-conforming people, who statistically face higher rates of suicide and depression than the rest of the population, said Sarah Buttons, a mental health counselor board member of Georgia Safe Schools Coalition. Buttons knew Schultz from Georgia Safe Schools Coalition events, where Schultz frequently tabled for Tech’s Pride Alliance.
In addition to maintaining high marks in the competitive, rigorous engineering program, Schultz faced additional stressors as an activist and community leader who was open with their gender identity, Buttons said.
“Scout was an outspoken leader so it feels in character with this person to not forget how they lived but also… to talk about the circumstances of their death,” Buttons said.
“Sometimes, our leaders get really worn down, so how do we make sure our leaders in the community are supported?”
After the shooting, Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson sent an email to the school community promising “opportunities for dialogue” and “additional resources as needed for healing.”
“While this is a heart-wrenchingly painful time for the entire Georgia Tech community, it is important to know that all of us here at Georgia Tech are committed to providing a safe and healthy, living and learning environment for all of our students, faculty and staff,” Peterson said. “As we work through this tragic event, I encourage you to take advantage of all of the resources we provide here on campus, for mental, emotional, and physical well-being.”
Encounter caught on camera
Stewart, the Schultz family’s lawyer, acknowledged their mental health issues in Monday’s news conference. He said the officer’s actions underscored the need for better training on how to deal with people in distress.
The officer either was not properly trained or “lost patience,” Stewart said. Either way, the officer’s life and safety were not under immediate threat, he said.
“People have breakdowns sometimes,” Stewart said. “That doesn’t mean they deserve to die.”
The shooting raised questions about why Tech’s campus police do not carry stun guns, Stewart said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is leading the investigation. The agency said that when officers arrived, they found Schultz outside a dormitory with a knife.
A student’s cellphone video captured from a dorm room across the street shows the confrontation play out in the brightly-lit entrance to a parking garage. At least two officers have their guns drawn as Schultz walks toward them with their arms down.
A knife is not visible in the cellphone video seen by CNN. Footage shot by CNN affiliate WSB after the shooting, shows a metal, flip-open utility tool lying on the ground that Stewart referenced.
“Come on, man, drop the knife,” one officer says. “Come on, let’s drop it,” another officer says.
Schultz walks toward them slowly and shouts, “Shoot me!”
“No, drop the knife,” the first officer says.
The officers repeatedly tell Schultz to drop the knife and one says, “Nobody wants to hurt you.” Another says, “What’s going on, man?”
More officers’ voices are heard, telling Schultz not to move and to drop the knife. Schultz pauses briefly, then takes three steps forward before being shot once and falling to the ground.
Schultz died at a hospital.
“We are all deeply saddened by what has occurred,” the Pride Alliance said in a statement on its website Sunday. “They have been the driving force behind Pride Alliance for the past two years. They pushed us to do more events and a larger variety events, and we would not be the organization we are known as without their constant hard work and dedication. Their leadership allowed us to create change across campus and in the Atlanta community.”
“Scout always reminded us to think critically about the intersection of identities and how a multitude of factors play into one’s experience on Tech’s campus and beyond,” the group said. “We love you Scout and we will continue to push for change.”
The group planned a vigil for Schultz on campus Monday night.