Four years after Scout Schultz, a 21-year-old non-binary student enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology, was killed by a campus police officer while on school grounds, the Schultz family has been awarded $1 million following a settlement in a wrongful death suit against the university.
Schultz—who identified as non-binary, intersex and bisexual and was a prominent member of the school’s LGBTQ2S+ activist community—was on the university’s campus the night of Sept. 16, 2017, when four officers were alerted about a person carrying both a knife and a gun. As the Georgia Bureau of Investigation later concluded, the person who had called emergency services was Schultz, who provided them with a description matching their own appearance, according to a 2020 report by the Associated Press.
At the time of the incident, Schultz was in the throes of a mental health crisis. As an attorney representing the Schultz family later stated, they purportedly aimed to initiate “suicide by cop.”
After locating Schultz in a campus parking area, the officers approached the student, who was carrying a multi-tool knife with an unwielded blade. Schultz repeatedly demanded that the officers open fire, walking toward them despite protests from all four officers to stop. It was then that one of the officers, 23-year-old Tyler Beck, took aim at Schultz, shooting them once in the chest. Schultz later died from the injury.
Their parents said that Schultz suffered from depression and left three suicide notes behind before placing the call, as reported by the Associated Press.
Although Schultz’s death occurred in 2017, it took nearly three years for Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney’s Office to decide whether Beck would face any criminal charges for the shooting. The student’s parents also questioned why neither Beck nor the other officers attempted to de-escalate the situation through non-lethal means.
After the shooting took place, Schultz’s father, William, criticized Beck and the other three campus officers present during the incident. “Why did you have to shoot?” he asked at a press conference, in comments reported by Reuters.
Similarly, the Schultz family’s lawyer, Chris Stewart, emphasized that the blade on Schultz’s multitool was “tiny” and “not even open,” and that other options, such as tasers or pepper spray, were not considered. (A university spokesperson claimed that Georgia Tech officers at the time were not issued tasers but did carry pepper spray along with their firearms, according to the Chicago Tribune.)
Following an inquiry, D.A. Paul Howard announced in March 2020 that no criminal charges would be levied against Beck, stating that at least two experts concluded the shooting was “justified.” But by then, Schultz’s parents had already brought a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the university, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Along with Georgia Tech, Beck and the state’s Board of Regents were also named as co-defendants.
Two years after the filing, the Schultz family and Georgia Tech have finally reached a settlement in the case, according to CNN. Terms of the settlement include a $1 million payout awarded to the Schultz family, which is the largest of its kind in state history. The resolution also includes demonstrative changes in how campus police officers are trained to deal with high-stress crises and general policing procedures.
Since Schultz’s death, Georgia Tech’s administration has reportedly enacted some reforms to campus policing. The university now requires members of its police force to complete a 40-hour training course for crisis intervention and equips officers with tasers, though they are also still required to carry firearms.
The university granted Scout Schultz a posthumous degree and invested $1 million into LGBTQ2S+ initiatives and mental health programming, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.
In a statement issued shortly after the settlement was reached, the Schultz family urged other universities to take steps to protect vulnerable students. (Data collected by the organization Everytown for Gun Safety in July counted 244 incidents of gun-related violence at colleges and universities across the U.S. between 2013 and 2021, among them shootings by police officers. Out of these, 155 people incurred injuries, and 84 people died as a direct result of gun violence.)
“We are hopeful that the university’s example of caring effort will be replicated nationwide,” the statement read. “Students have let us know the LGBTQIA community is often overlooked and we hope these positive changes continue and that Scout’s life will stand for change.”