MOBILE, Ala. — Dozens of students gathered at the site of a deadly campus shooting on Wednesday to protest the killing of a naked, unarmed student by a University of South Alabama police officer.
A smaller group rallied to support the embattled police department and officer Trevis Austin, 27, who fatally shot 18-year-old Gil Collar early Saturday.
Investigators have said Collar took the hallucinogenic drug LSD at a Mobile music festival before returning to campus and having a bizarre drug-induced meltdown and pounding on the police station’s glass door. Austin came out of the station with his weapon drawn and shot and killed Collar after the one-time high school wrestler continued to advance and refused to follow police commands, authorities have said.
The protesters said they want campus police to carry Tasers and believe the officer should have subdued Collar without killing him.
“The kid was 18 and kids that age experiment with stuff like that,” said Caroline De Freitas, 34 and a nursing student. “We really need a way to deal with that that type of crisis without using deadly force.”
De Freitas circulated a petition demanding that administrators change the police department’s guidelines and supply officers with Tasers.
“Gil was murdered,” read one sign.
“Students want solutions,” read another.
Jason Carey, 29 and a former student, said the problem is the police officers’ training.
“A lot of us would like to see police minimize the use of lethal force and learn to try and deescalate situations,” he said. “Here, police are taught to use violence first but in other places like England they don’t carry guns and they are taught to try and deescalate tensions.”
But Stephanie Lowe, the mother of a 19-year-old student, said she supports the police and feels the officer acted based on his own best judgment.
“It’s not like you have a sober, intelligent, young man coming up to a police officer and he’s shot — that’s not the case,” said Lowe, as he carried a sign supporting the campus police. “You had a gentleman who was not in his right state of mind and it was handled appropriately.”
The Mobile County Sheriff’s Office and district attorney are investigating the shooting and the case will be brought before a grand jury to decide whether the officer will face charges. On Thursday, investigators will show surveillance video from the shooting to the media.
Sheriff Sam Cochran said Tuesday that the video might answer some questions about the officer’s actions. Cochran said Austin left the building with his weapon drawn and that police training teaches officers to secure their weapon at all times. Collar got too close to the drawn gun and Austin shot him in the chest when he came within five feet, he said.
Investigators have said they are working to determine how Austin obtained the LSD and they could charge the person who sold him the drugs in connection to his death.
Official explanations don’t satisfy Betty Gartman, whose husband teaches sociology at the campus. Gartman joined protesters on Wednesday.
“Death is never an option and this shows the inadequacy of the police training,” she said. “He was naked and he wasn’t an eminent danger,” she said.