Jere L. Beasley, Founding Shareholder of the Montgomery, Ala., based law firm of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., says his firm will use surveillance video, autopsy reports, and toxicity screening reports, and other means to determine if a University of South Alabama campus police officer followed proper procedures or used excessive force that resulted in the death of 18-year-old freshman student Gil Collar. Gil died after being shot in the chest early Saturday morning at campus police headquarters. The Beasley Allen Law Firm is representing the Collar family and doing an independent investigation into the events surrounding Gil Collar’s death.
“There are some issues that deal with standards, rules, and regulations covering incidents of this sort that must be addressed,” Beasley said. “Obviously, something caused Gil to act in an unusual manner, but that does not justify shooting an obviously unarmed young man unless there is a piece of the puzzle totally missing that we’re not seeing. Unfortunately, information about the case – whether true or rumor – has been spreading like wildfire. It is not fair to the family, and certainly not to Gil’s memory, for this story to be carried on emotional fever. All of us owe it to the family to get to the bottom of what happened to their son and why.
“Our law firm has strongly supported law enforcement officers at every level and we still do. That will not change. We fully realize that communities must also support their local police. But this tragic event involving the use of deadly force against a college student, who was obviously in distress, resulted in the young man’s death.
“When I first saw the news releases from the University of South Alabama, and I read the initial media reports, I was under the impression that a burly, muscular student had attacked a police officer who had to defend himself. But after being retained by the family, we learned that the student was unarmed, 5’7”, and weighed about 140 pounds. Our mission was to do a thorough investigation and find out what had caused the death of the 18-year-old student.
“News conferences were held that attempted to paint a picture of Gil as being on LSD, out-of-control and a violent person. That picture was totally inconsistent with the history of Gil while growing up in Wetumpka, Alabama.
“Now, let’s put things in perspective – Gil’s family left him at the University of South Alabama back in August. The Chief of the school’s security force told all families they could rest assured that his officers would make sure their children would be safe on campus. He said their job was to provide a safe environment for the students. I am sure that the Chief meant what he said. All law enforcement officers must be qualified, trained, and taught to handle, to the extent possible, all situations that they will face. They must also be furnished with proper equipment required to do their job.
“A lawyer from our firm, Ben Locklar, who incidentally worked as a police officer before attending law school, and Bruce Huggins, the Chief Investigator for our firm, spent yesterday in Mobile. While there, the Sheriff allowed them to view the videotape of the events of Saturday morning. The media will also be given access to the videotape.
“After viewing the videotape, we do not believe that deadly force was justified in this incident. Clearly, Gil was disturbed for some reason, and he came to the campus police station. The campus security force had access to pepper spray and a baton. The officer involved had access to this equipment. But it doesn’t appear that either was with him. We have been told that he didn’t. Regardless, he should have had both. The officers are not trained to use stun guns.
“Nothing in the videotape – which doesn’t include the actual shooting – appears to justify the use of deadly force when other methods were available to the officer. We are told that backup was called for and actually came almost immediately after Gil was shot. A dispatcher is shown outside the building who we’re told called for the second officer. So obviously, that officer was in close proximity to the scene when called.
“It’s significant that no contact ever occurred between Gil and the officer. The officer doesn’t appear to have ever been in danger. I must also address Gil’s demeanor and conduct. It’s very clear he was in distress for some reason. Blood samples were taken, and an autopsy was done on Tuesday. We were told that the toxicology reports won’t be available to anybody for two to three weeks. So at this juncture, nobody can say with certainty what caused Gil’s behavior patterns to change. For that reason, the family should not have been subjected to media reports that Gil was on LSD.
“Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Collar, the parents, have one major goal, and that is to make sure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the future. They want a complete review of the standards for campus security officers. We must remember we are talking about officers whose responsibilities are primarily dealing with problems on campus. The family wants everybody to understand that they have feelings for the officer involved. They are actively praying for him and really blame the university for what happened.
“Our role is to see that a thorough investigation is done and completed. We will review everything, and I will then make specific recommendations to the parents. Those recommendations will not come until our investigative work is done.”