According to a mandate issued Oct. 31, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a University of South Alabama police officer who fatally shot a student in a drug-fueled encounter in October 2012. Bonnie and Reed Collar, the parents of 18-year-old decedent Gil Collar, filed the appeal after a federal judge determined last year that USA police officer Trevis Austin was protected by qualified immunity.
In an order signed Sept. 2, the appellate court revisited Austin’s decision to unholster his handgun and fire one shot at a naked and erratic Collar, a 25-second encounter that ended just as a back-up officer, Bernard Parrish, was arriving on scene.“There is no evidence that Officer Parrish was close enough to Austin to offer non-lethal assistance as Gil Collar was quickly advancing on Austin, who continued to back up in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid Collar’s rapid approach,” the court found. “Under those circumstances, a reasonable officer could have believed that Collar posed an immediate threat of death or serious injury, notwithstanding the fact another officer was somewhere behind that officer.”
Regarding the question of whether or not Austin could have subdued Collar with non-lethal pepper spray, the court wrote, “Austin’s pepper spray was carried in a holster on his righthand side, the same side as his firearm holster. As a result, in order to use his pepper spray, Austin would have had to holster his firearm with his right hand, and then open the holster holding the pepper spray, and then remove the pepper spray and position it in his hands to spray it, and then aim it at Collar and spray it, all in a few seconds as Austin was quickly moving backwards in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the rapidly approaching Collar. In those circumstances, a reasonable officer could have concluded that there was not time to attempt to stop the charge with pepper spray.”
Collar, who according to witnesses had ingested the psychedelic designer drug 25I earlier that night, drew Austin’s attention by beating on the campus police station’s windows and shouting. Moments earlier, completely nude and walking around campus, he allegedly assaulted passers by.
Notably, the court wrote “we add is that the death of Gil Collar is unquestionably tragic. It is yet another example of the bizarre behavior that drugs can produce and the terrible toll that they exact. We also realize the sincerity of the parents’ belief that their son’s death could have been avoided, that it was unnecessary to shoot him. With the benefit of hindsight and having had much time to contemplate the matter, we may agree with them that the shooting could have been avoided. Officer Austin, however, did not have time for contemplation.”
Video cameras mounted on the police station’s exterior walls partially captured the encounter, but while the footage has been shown to the media, it has never been publicly released. Reached for comment, plaintiffs’ attorney Benjamin Locklear responded, “Our firm, along with the firm of Briskman & Binion in Mobile (Charlie Potts and Josh Briskman), undertook what we knew was an uphill battle. We believed, and continue to believe, that Gil Collar should never have been shot and killed by Officer Trevis Austin. We understand that the governmental immunity protections provided to police officers create a very high and wide barrier to overcome. Unfortunately, we were not able to convince the District Court Judge or the 11th Circuit that the evidence supported presenting this case to a jury. We are extremely disappointed in the outcome, but we respect the judicial process. The Collars are, of course, very disappointed as well, and our heart and prayers continue to be with them.”
According to payroll records, Austin was still employed at USA as of September 2016. The university did not immediately respond to offer to comment on the appeal today.
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