A Georgia Tech senior was shot in the heart because a campus police officer “overreacted,” said the attorney for the student’s family at a news conference Monday.
Georgia Tech police officers responded to a 911 call at 11:17 p.m. Saturday reporting a person with a knife and a gun on the downtown Atlanta campus. They encountered Scout Schultz, 21, barefoot and “disoriented” in the middle of a “mental breakdown,” attorney L. Chris Stewart said.
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 of excessive force mounted, Stewart accused Georgia Tech of forcing the narrative Schultz was a “knife-wielding” threat despite evidence suggesting otherwise.
“Why did you have to shoot? That’s the question. That’s the only question that matters now,” said Schultz’s father, William Schultz. “Whatever happened shouldn’t have ended in a death.”
Georgia Tech declined to comment, citing the pending investigation.
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 William 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 nonconforming 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 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.”
Stewart acknowledged their mental health issues in Monday’s news conference. But, he cautioned against using Schultz’s condition as justification for the shooting, saying the officer’s actions underscored the need for better training on encounters with people in distress.
Stewart has represented the families of other victims of police-involved shootings, including Alton Sterling and Walter Scott.
He credited most of Georgia Tech officers with responding effectively by attempting to deescalate the matter. One officer, however, either was not properly trained or “lost patience” and opened fire without facing an immediate threat, Stewart said.
“People have breakdowns sometimes,” Stewart said. “That doesn’t mean they deserve to die.”
The shooting also 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, when officers arrived, they found Schultz outside a dormitory with a knife.
But, Stewart said Schultz was carrying an unsheathed multipurpose tool, not quite a knife, and accused Georgia Tech of playing up Schultz as a “knife-wielding” threat to justify their actions.
Schultz was shot “walking slowly, not running, at the officers, not threatening them with a knife… but with a multipurpose tool that probably everybody has in their car,” Stewart said. “That’s the truth. We don’t understand why Georgia Tech won’t admit that.”
William has one theory: “It’s obvious they’re trying to protect their own image.”
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.
“Come on, man, drop the knife,” one officer said.
“Come on, let’s drop it,” another officer said.
Schultz walks toward them slowly and shouts “Shoot me!”
“No, drop the knife,” the first officer said.
The officers repeatedly tell Schultz to drop the knife, and one said “Nobody wants to hurt you.”
Another said “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. “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. We love you Scout, and we will continue to push for change.”
The group planned an on-campus vigil for Schultz on Monday night.