Scout Schultz, a Georgia Tech student, was shot after walking toward an officer while carrying a multitool and refusing officers’ demands to drop the object. Schultz’s family say Schultz had a history of depression and may have had a mental breakdown. (Photo: AJC file/contributed)

One year after student’s tragic death, Tech touts reforms

Brilliant but troubled. An outcast and a leader. Scout Schultz was also a provocateur, even in death.

The police-involved shooting of the 21-year-old Georgia Tech student on Sept. 16, 2017, forced university officials to confront some difficult challenges pertaining to use of force, access to mental health counseling and the under-representation of a growing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) community.

Schultz did not identify as either male or female and, as such, preferred the pronouns “they” or “them,” rather than “he” or “her.”

“Scout’s death pulled back the curtain on a number of issues that had been simmering under the surface, not only at Tech but on campuses everywhere,” said Halle Lieberman, who teaches science journalism at Tech and has written extensively about the aftermath of Schultz’s death.

But one issue remains largely unresolved. The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office continues to investigate the circumstances that led Tech police officer Tyler Beck, 23 years old at the time, to shoot Schultz once in the chest while three other officers on the scene appeared to follow standard de-escalation techniques.

Meanwhile, Beck rejoined the force, in an administrative capacity, last December after being placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

“That doesn’t sound like a punishment. It sounds like a reward,” Scout’s father, Bill Schultz, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The GBI completed its probe of the shooting and turned it over to the district attorney last December.

Schultz’s death has already led to major reforms on Tech’s campus — changes that, had they been implemented before last September, may very well have saved Scout’s life.

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Made own 911 call

Lynne Schultz said her child, Scout, had attempted suicide by hanging at least once while at Tech, with a belt attached to a bunk bed in a dorm room. The belt snapped and Scout was unharmed.

It’s unclear whether the confrontation with campus police, orchestrated by Scout, was tantamount to a suicide attempt. Schultz called 911 to report “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 and encountered Schultz, armed only with a multipurpose tool that included a small blade, which was not extended. There was no gun.

Police ordered Schultz to drop the multi-tool. In a video capturing the incident, Schultz can be heard responding, “Shoot me!” Schultz also ignored officers’ commands to stand in place, moving slowly toward the four officers who surrounded the Lilburn native.

As the officer to his right stepped back, Beck stood his ground, shooting a single bullet into Schultz’s chest. It was the only shot fired. Scout would be pronounced dead 30 minutes later.

It was soon revealed that Beck, and the other officers, were not equipped with Tasers. And, like a majority of Tech’s 89 officers, Beck had not completed Crisis Intervention Team training offered by the GBI. The instruction is aimed at helping police recognize signs of behavioral problems caused by mental illness or substance abuse.

While they’ve said little about it, citing the ongoing investigation by the district attorney, Tech has changed its policies on both training and equipment. All sworn officers have been issued Tasers, and most have received CIT training, Tech said in a statement.

“It is now a departmental standard to have 100 percent of GTPD sworn officers complete the 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team training,” the statement read. “The Basic Peace Officers Course, the academy-level training that all officers must complete, includes crisis intervention.”

Georgia does not require campus officers to complete CIT training and, while nearly all of the campuses nationwide that employ sworn police officers authorize them to use a sidearm, only 40 percent of these agencies authorize use of a conducted-energy device, such as a Taser, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Twenty-four of the 26 University System of Georgia campuses are equipped with tasers, and one is in the final stages of deploying them. Tasers are not mandated by the USG for its campus police departments, but having tasers is one of the standards upon which the departments are assessed, according to USG spokesman Lance Wallace.

“In the aftermath of the shooting our interactive site was busy for a few weeks asking about Tasers and their use,” said Sue Riseling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and former police chief at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “However, how many of those colleges actually purchased and now use Tasers is unknown to us here at IACLEA.”

Officers at UGA and Georgia State carry Tasers.

More mental health support

Before dying, Scout had grown increasingly frustrated by a perceived lack of respect afforded Tech’s Pride Alliance, Bill Schultz said. Scout had been elected president of the diverse group, dedicated to inclusion and social justice, earlier in 2017.

Scout Schultz had previously sought counseling off-campus for mental health issues and had long suffered from depression.

The shooting death galvanized critics who felt Tech had not offered enough mental health services and inadequately supported LGBTQIA students. Attempts to reach students active in the LGBTQIA community for their perspective on the campus changes were unsuccessful and the AJC was told through a intermediary that some were unwilling to be interviewed. The AJC reported last year that Georgia Tech officials tracked the social media postings of one student who called for mental health services on campus.

Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson appointed teams to come up with ways to improve mental health services and better support LGBTQIA students under an initiative called “A Path Forward.”

There were 180 recommendations. More than 50 suggestions are in the works or have been completed, such as the expansion of Tech’s LGBTQIA Resource Center, which was derided as way too small to adequately serve students. Peterson last year created a fund for donors to contribute money for student mental health and wellness initiatives and quickly received a $1 million contribution.

Peterson had in 2013 commissioned a task force to look for ways to improve mental health services on campus, but a number of recommendations weren’t implemented, campus leaders wrote in one report.

This time, there are plans for pilot programs to ease the stress for students that piles up from tough classes, competitive colleagues and student debt, such as financial literacy classes.

Grant Larkin, 20, a third-year chemical engineering student from Arkansas, dryly noted during the question-and-answer part of a campus town hall to discuss “A Path Foward” Tuesday, that there was an irony to asking already stressed students to take another class as a way to help themselves.

In an interview, Larkin cited what he said is a prevailing problem at Georgia Tech: Students feel intense pressure to maintain high grades and “romanticize” the sacrifice to do well in the classroom.

“It’s kind of romanticized how hard you work,” Larkin said. “It’s like ‘Wow! I pulled two all-nighters in a row or oh my gosh, I only drank Red Bull and ate trail mix for 16 hours straight’ … It’s like the culture of people who treat themselves like that are idolized.”

Larkin said he felt the pressure as a first-year student and acted similarly. Now, Larkin said, he makes a point to get some sleep.

Campus leaders also highlighted the situation in one report to Georgia Tech administrators.

“There is an unhealthy competition among students and faculty,” they wrote.

That pressure has often led to suicide attempts. According to that report, the percentage of students who visited Georgia Tech’s counseling center who said they’ve attempted suicide increased from about 6 percent in 2014 to 9.5 percent in 2017.

Colin Potts, vice provost for undergraduate education, acknowledged the academic pressures during the meeting. Recommendations have included tweaking the grading system, revamping classes for first-year students and making sure graduate students don’t feel isolated.

Some changes will take longer than others. Potts said it can take a semester or two to implement a new class or initiative.

“This is going to take some cultural change … There are some things that will take more time than we’d like,” he told the audience.

Georgia Tech posthumously gave Schultz a degree this spring. Schultz’s parents are grateful, but their joy is muted. Scout is gone.

“It was a nice recognition of Scout’s accomplishments,” Bill Schultz said.

Lieberman, the journalism instructor, said Scout’s death has led to conversations long overdue.

“It’s important to bring awareness to it but there needs to be actual sustainable change,” she said.

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