Last week at The University of South Alabama, a naked eighteen year-old student was shot and killed by a police officer. A press release from the university said the officer heard a bang on a window at campus police headquarters and went outside to investigate. Outside, he encountered a naked student, Gil Collar, who appeared to be intoxicated. After a short encounter – where accounts vary on exactly what happened – the officer shot and killed Collar.
Witnesses say Collar had been running through the streets, screaming obscenities, and claiming that he was on a ‘spiritual quest.’ Some witnesses also claim that he may have taken a ‘fighting stance’ and chased the police officer. The officer has claimed he tried to retreat and to defuse the situation before opening fire, but it is still unclear what threat Collar posed (or appeared to pose) to necessitate the drastic use of force. There is surveillance video of the incident, apparently, and reportedly the tapes indicate that Collar never even as much as touched the police officer.
The case has been handed over to Mobile County authorities and could take weeks to resolve. As a criminal defense attorney, I have been involved in many cases of police use of force. I have represented victims of excessive force, as well as police officers accused of using excessive force. Obviously, I am not privy to all of the facts, and so my thoughts are possibly based on incorrect or incomplete assumptions, but as I see it, the jurisprudence does not give a law enforcement officer the right to use deadly force in a situation such as this. While one can imagine a scenario where the use of deadly force is appropriate when confronted with a dangerous situation, the presence of a naked, clearly unarmed man would not appear to be one of them.
So how does something like this happen? How does a law enforcement officer come to believe that a naked man has the potential to do such harm to the officer that he must shoot to kill? When did disturbing the peace, drunk and disorderly conduct provide a reason to shoot and kill a citizen?
Friends and relatives are trying to figure out what could have happened to the quiet kid who showed so much promise. Collar was normally a reserved young man whom friends described as a popular and good-looking. He wasn’t a known troublemaker and had only two minor scrapes with the law, according to court records: a speeding ticket and a citation for being a minor in possession of three cigarettes in March.
“Whatever caused the incident was something that made him act not in his normal personality,” said his mother, Bonnie Smith Collar. Clearly Collar had a lapse in judgment or perhaps even some deeper phychological problem at the time of the shooting. But, even assuming all of that, this young man should not be dead. A life was taken, and it seems it was taken with no justifiable reason by law enforcement.