The shooting of the Georgia Tech student by the Georgia Tech police officer is an example of a legally justified act that deserves ethical examination. The law is clear. An officer is justified in using deadly force if the officer reasonably believes said force is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury to himself or a third person. As a prosecutor, I investigated over a dozen police shootings. As a defense attorney, I defended an Atlanta police officer charged in a shooting involving similar circumstances. The jury had no problem reaching an acquittal. Much deference is given to police officers in these situations.
The ethicist would ask if there is another way to protect the officer without great harm or death to the student, and the answer is, “Yes!” First, it is obvious this was a student in need of help. He never uttered threatening words to the officer. Exactly the opposite. The student begged the officer, “Shoot me!” A person trained to deal with mental health issues can distinguish a cry for help from that of a threat of assault. Unfortunately, this officer had no training on how to deal with mental health breakdowns before taking the campus beat. I interact with college students every day — as a professor and a lawyer. Mental health breakdowns, particularly while under great stress, are not uncommon among college students. Before an officer walks among college students, the officer should be required to have mental health training.