Ala. officer who shot naked man had baton, spray
A University of South Alabama campus police officer who fatally shot a naked student was carrying pepper spray and a baton at the time, the school said Friday.
University spokesman Keith Ayers said Officer Trevis Austin, a four-year employee in his first police job, was armed with all three weapons when he walked outside the police station with his gun drawn to confront Gil Collar. The 18-year-old college freshman was naked when he banged on police department windows in the pre-dawn hours last Saturday.
It's unclear why Austin went for his gun first, but the sheriff has said the decision was proper.
Authorities said Collar, a 5-foot-7, 140-pound high school wrestler in his first semester of college, was on LSD when he moved aggressively toward the officer in an athletic stance, prompting the shooting. But surveillance video shows the student never tried to grab the officer's weapon or got within 4 or 5 feet of Austin.
A copy of the university's weapons policy, released to The Associated Press in response to an open records request, shows an officer's actions in cases where force is necessary should be based on how much a suspect resists. Deadly force is justified only when a suspect has the intent, ability and opportunity to kill or injure someone else, the policy states.
The policy says that an officer's attempt to control a situation "should match (the) level of resistance then move up or down as resistance changes." But Ayers declined comment on how the guidelines are interpreted when an officer is confronted by someone who doesn't have a weapon, yet could present a threat.
"The university is withholding further comment at this time as the district attorney and sheriff's office have time to conduct a thorough external review," he said.
An attorney for Collar's family, former Alabama Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, said the university's policy "totally gives support to our position" that the shooting wasn't justified.
"There is no question the required force here was much less than shooting somebody," he said. "He could not say his life was in jeopardy or he was in fear of bodily harm."
Authorities have said a grand jury would review the shooting to determine whether charges should be filed. Such investigations are typical in police shootings in Alabama.
Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran has said it was unclear whether the officer could have done anything other than shoot Collar because he walked outside with his gun drawn.
"Had the officer had a Taser or some other less lethal instrument, I do not know if that officer would have had an opportunity to ... holster his pistol and to use something else because the events were evolving so rapidly and he was so close that had he put the pistol in the holster, I don't know that he could have drawn something else," Cochran told reporters earlier this week.
Cochran said he believed it was proper for the officer to go outside with his gun drawn after Collar repeatedly banged on windows at the campus police station, but he hasn't said whether he thought the shooting was justified.
Authorities haven't said why Austin drew his gun first rather than opting for a less-lethal weapon. Collar managed to get up even after being shot once in the chest, and backup officers arrived seconds after the shooting.
Beasley said there was nothing to justify the shooting on the surveillance video, which was shown to both the media and representatives of Beasley's law firm but has not been released publicly.
Collar's funeral is scheduled for Saturday in his hometown of Wetumpka, located about 20 miles north of Montgomery.
The university police department has 33 sworn officers, Ayers said. Members are required to meet the same type of minimum training standards as officers in a typical municipal or county department, but the school hasn't released details on Austin's training.
Associated Press writer Phillip Rawls contributed to this report.