Carrying a Knife is Legal in Georgia

This story has all the tribal things going on, which is going to make it hard to discuss rationally. Nevertheless, I think the headline captures the most crucial factor. Let's go to the story.
When Lynne Schultz first heard that her oldest child, Scout, had been shot and killed by a Georgia Tech police officer late Saturday night, she assumed it occurred at a protest rally.

Scout, she says, was politically active in progressive causes.... According to Georgia Tech police, Scout was seen walking toward police and ignored numerous orders to drop what appeared to be a pocket knife. Photos of the knife taken at the scene reveal the blade was not extended.

Video of the incident showed Scout, 21, shouting “Shoot me!” to the four officers on the scene. A minute later, one of them did.
The GBI is investigating. I also have some questions I'd like answered.

Under current law, a pocket knife of the size in question doesn't even qualify as a regulated weapon -- only knives 12" or longer are regulated, and those are legal to carry if you have a Weapons Carry Permit. Thus, when you see someone carrying around even a big knife, you can't assume they're committing a crime.

On a college campus, well, the law has just recently changed there too: Georgia instituted Campus Carry this spring. So, "person carrying a knife" is not evidence of a crime; the right response by the police might include 'lets keep an eye on them' but not 'let's draw guns and order them to drop the weapon.' Legally, it's not even considered a weapon.

The video makes it clear that the police bracketed this student from at least two and probably three positions (the last judging from an officer appearing from that direction right after the shooting). The closest one was behind a physical barricade.

The student was definitely being challenging and aggressive towards the police, which is usually a bad idea. The student chose to advance on the female officer, who was not the one behind a physical barricade. Though this student "identifies as non-gender-binary," the student was born male and was larger than the female officer. A reasonable female officer of her size, opposed by a larger person whom the officers clearly took for a male, might have felt that her options for effective self defense were limited. Though the knife was closed, it can be opened quickly; though she had numerous friends, and they had their target bracketed, she could not be sure anyone else would kill the student before a clash became actualized. Shooting to stop the aggressive advance may well have made sense, once she found herself in that position.

But why did they get in this position at all? I'm not concerned for myself, as there's an obvious road to avoiding getting killed in this circumstance -- put down the knife and discuss the issue with the police once you've made them comfortable. But this was clearly legal behavior, which they responded to by initiating an interaction built around the immediate threat of lethal force. They did this in spite of superior numbers on the scene, and in spite of the fact that the perfectly legal knife wasn't even open.

Lethal force in Georgia is supposed to be used only to stop an immediate threat of death or grievous bodily harm. In theory, that standard applies to police and other citizens equally. While they may have gotten to a place where the officer could reasonably claim that she felt she met that standard, they put themselves one step away from shooting in the absence of evidence of any crime at all.


Christopher B said...

The student was definitely being challenging and aggressive towards the police, which is usually a bad idea.

IANAL, and I'm not trying to be too snarky, but my understanding is advancing aggressively toward someone with a weapon, legal or not, is more than just a 'bad idea'. It sounds like assault which I believe is a crime.

Could the police have handled this differently? Certainly. Since he was holding a knife and would have had to close quarters to do any damage they could have given him an obvious avenue of retreat. That appears to me to be the main tactical error since it left any one of them vulnerable to one-on-one attack. It would also required them to assume that he wasn't also carrying a gun. I'm not sure they knew that with confidence. They could have been more aggressive and taken him down physically but again this requires the assumption that he didn't have allies that might in turn attack the police. It also put them, and him, at an increased risk for injuries at least.

The police were responding to his aggressive behavior and I'm not so willing to absolve him of the responsibility to deescalate the situation, not them.

Grim said...

Advancing aggressively is not assault; assault in Georgia is 'putting someone in a situation in which they will likely receive injury.' Advancing aggressively with a weapon might qualify, but this (a) wasn't a weapon under the law, and (b) turns out not even to have been a knife -- based on photographs coming to light, it was a multi-tool, one of whose many attachments was a knife blade but which was folded in along with all the others. As someone who has doubtless used one, you know that in fact it would take a minute to dig the right attachment out and open it for use.

Of course, the police will argue that they couldn't know precisely what was in the hand; it was dark; lots of things could go wrong; they tried talking and were rebuffed; etc. I'm sure they'll receive no punishment.

I've been arguing for a long time that the problem with these encounters is the way that we're training the police, not the judgment of the police themselves. Here too, I suspect she did exactly what she was trained to do, and will therefore be found to have acted appropriately.

I'm not arguing that the officer should go to jail or anything like that. What I'm arguing, here as elsewhere, is that the training police officers are receiving is causing them to frame interactions in the way most likely to prove deadly to the person they're encountering. When you put yourself one step away from killing someone, you're just one stimulus/response from killing them.

In other words, if assault is 'putting someone in a situation where injury is likely,' assault is what the police did. I'm not saying they should go to jail for it, but I am questioning why we train the police to default to this level of probability of injury or death.

E Hines said...

Couple thoughts on the pepper spray that was mentioned in one of the articles as an alternative to shooting. The same or an adjacent article reminded readers that an assailant can span 20 feet in the time it takes to fire a couple of shots (or before even a reasonably trained officer can present his weapon, if he hasn't already); those 20 feet are the max range of a pepper spray canister (or at least the one I carry, which I think is fairly typical). Which way was the breeze blowing? Just about any angle would reduce the range of the spray, and a bad angle would bring some of the spray back to the cop, which would be counterproductive. Finally, I've been gassed twice while in the USAF. For someone who knows what he's doing, neither pepper spray nor tear gas is promptly debilitating, much less debilitating at all to a large extent. Nor is the stuff debilitating to someone who's pumped up on a stimulant drug or simply pumped up in a psychotic break. There's no evidence in the commentary that Scout met any of those conditions, though.

Regarding tasers, those, too, have limited range, and they're not instantly debilitating with someone who's pumped up.

Other thoughts: as dark as it was, how was the doofer being carried by Scout recognized as a pocket knife, or a knife of any sort, at the distances apparently involved at the outset? (That it was a utility knife as a mendacious lawyer claimed, or a multi-tool, doesn't make much difference. If Scout were approaching with ill intent, any tool pulled out would serve for stabbing; the knife blade only would have been the optimal tool to draw.)

Regarding putting my knife on the ground, as Grim suggested, I'm not sure I would, eliding the question of why I have the knife in my hand in the first place (which may be a good reason or a bad one). I would, instead, put the knife in my pocket or its sheath and slow my advance (if I were approaching the cop to communicate peaceably) or stop, in either case with my hands in plain sight and away from my pocket/sheath.

I agree with Grim that police training is a problem, but not only in the way they're taught to recognize a problem and to develop a response. Their physical training is sorely lacking: they get almost no serious (or even unserious) unarmed combat training. And, in the particular case, it appears as though these police were four individuals, not two pairs. That doesn't work very well in potentially dangerous situations.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

In fairness, it should be noted that Georgia knife laws have changed in the last few months. Even last spring, a small multi-tool knife blade might have counted as a weapon; the change to deregulate knives under 12" is only a few months old.

Likewise, campus carry is new this year. Even last spring it was illegal to bring weapons on campus. This year, if you have a permit, it is legal in most cases. But again, only for the last few months has this been true.

So to say that training needs to be updated isn't, I think, to say anything strange. In part, the need to update it is to reflect a new reality in which having a knife on a college campus is now presumptively lawful.

E Hines said...

So to say that training needs to be updated....

True enough. However, whenever we got a new procedure or a new regulation in the USAF, we got immediate training on it. I suspect the Marines and the other services were just as diligent. I see no reason why a police force should be less so. The changes to the laws regarding knives and where weapons may be carried are months old, not hours.

And the lack of other training is hoary in its age.

Eric Hines

raven said...

Predictable, pointless, sad.
inject gas in a cylinder, close the valves, and spark it, combustion results.
The guy was acting dumb, the cops were in hyper-cop mode, there you go.

In the old days, the guy would have gotten a stick across the noggin and arm and been beat up, but live to see a court or a shrink.

Still can't figure why they did not use a taser, seems like they all have them nowadays.

I think the police are getting hair trigger training or something, Shooting this guy does not indicate self confidence on the part of the cops. Going home at the end of the day is not their job. Serving the public is. It is sort of the "safety first" mantra run amok. Then again, they could have saved this guys life by beating him down, and getting an officer cut up, and everyone would be on their case about excessive force. Can't win.

We had some poor street person killed by a cop here in Seattle a few years ago, he apparently was a wood carver and had a small knife in his hand, and the cop shot him- I do not know the full circumstances but do not think it was an attack per se, but a refusal to drop the knife that got him killed.

Shooting an obvious immediate threat is one thing, but shooting someone for non-compliance is another- like the drunk guy killed on his porch holding a hose nozzle- some idiot called in a report he had a gun, so the cops arrive already stoked on adrenaline and basically shot him down on the spot. 30 seconds of recon by the police would have saved that guys life.

Eric Blair said...

This is why you should give cops batons like they got in Pakistan and India and Singapore. A good 2 - 3 foot baton and they could have beat the kid into submission.

Grim said...

Indeed, at 3 or 4 to one you'd have to be a martial artist to win out even with a knife much better suited to fighting than a Gerber multi-tool.

Dad29 said...

I would, instead, put the knife in my pocket or its sheath and slow my advance (if I were approaching the cop to communicate peaceably) or stop, in either case with my hands in plain sight and away from my pocket/sheath.

Consider that again, Eric. You have three cops with guns at the ready and you want to move your hand toward a pocket or towards your belt-line? Where they cannot see what you're doing, or worse, conclude that you are going for 'the pistol' mentioned in the original call?

Make me a beneficiary of your life-insurance policy!!

As to the larger question, "campus cops" are usually a few steps up from Mall Ninjas but also a few steps down from city cops. They are not often in very dangerous situations and can easily over-react.

Ymar Sakar said...

If the police unions decide that the police academy or some updated training needs to be done, they get the say. Nobody else. The city and the people work for them, not the other way around.

The usual people will run into the usual problems when they try to resolve the situation using training aids: Deep State blocks them.

Ymar Sakar said...

People often over react to my comments and think I'm going to go on a mall shooting spring. Heh, shows what they know.

The specific conditioning and user training used to create assassins is very different depending on who actually is in control of the training.

It is far easier, if you want to get a bunch of dead bodies stacked up like cordword in the US, to train the FBi and the SS and the police to do the job for you. They'll even pay people to do this.

Ymar Sakar said...

The evidence for why this is police union training policies is due to a pretty obvious reason. The police were ordered to Stand Down, when it came to enforcing law and order on Leftist alliance protests and anarchy riots.

Now in this situation shooting up the place would be a wise action. Many Americans clamored for that exact response when Baghdad was looted after 2003.

But they don't even get to that point, because their orders are very specific. If it was just a bunch of hot dog police officers executing people like at Waco 2, the pattern would resolve themselves. But it won't.

They are obeying orders. From a hierarchy that people refuse to recognize as real.

jaed said...

He wasn't committing a crime.

Therefore, the only excuse available to the cops for the killing is self-defense (or lawful defense of another).

If I shot someone, while I was with several armed friends yet, and used as my justification that "he had a multitool in his hand, and might possibly have stopped, opened the knife blade, and then stabbed me with it, and therefore I was in reasonable fear for my life"... well, you can guess what would happen in a court if I tried that defense.

Cops should not be above the law and they should not be encouraged to hysteria and panicky reactions.

All that being said... reportedly, the victim was shouting "Shoot me!" at the time. What sort of idiot cop would leap to conceptualize this as a threat, rather than an obvious mental-health crisis? What in the name of God were they thinking?

Grim said...

I mean, only one of them shot. I suspect she was afraid, felt like she'd gotten separated from her buddies, and was being advanced upon by a crazy person with something in 'his' hand that she'd been told was a weapon. She had to be aware of being smaller than him, and having her gun in her hand made it the obvious tool to use: even if she'd had a taser, she'd have had to put the gun away and then draw it. So, by responding as she'd been taught to do, she put herself in a situation in which shooting was definitely going to happen if she got scared.

It's not strictly irrational at that point. The problem, as you say, is how they got to that point -- "leap[ing] to conceptualize this as a threat, rather than an obvious mental-health crisis." That's where the error was made.

Douglas2 said...

Not that I'm defending the officer that shot, but are you saying that brandishing=carrying, and it is now OK to brandish sharp pointy things in GA?

Grim said...

Georgia law doesn't use the term "brandishing." You might come under indictment for assault under the terms discussed above, but probably not for a closed multi-tool (as the likelihood of injury from one is close to zero).

Matt said...

I wouldn't dismiss the potential of even a closed multi-tool in a grappling fight; it's heavier, larger, and more solid than most pocketknives, and would seem to lend itself well to packing a fist for punches or hammerstrikes.

jaed said...

Well, yes, it's possible to use it as a weapon... but that doesn't make "someone is walking toward me carrying one" a predicate for lethal self-defense.

Ymar Sakar said...

The Wicked Witch of the West is above the law. Why can't LEOs be also above the law, they are not part of the State with its bennies.

The State Department and the IRS also have benefits such as destroying political groups they don't like or assassinating a few uppity African leaders that wanted to go unto a gold standard... can't have that.

For people that don't understand how assassination and combat mind triggers are conditioned and used, refer to Frontsight's color coded awareness of white, yellow, orange, red, and black.

The LEOs have put themselves, or their training put them, into the red zone, one trigger away from killing a human and acting without hesitation. This red zone when it is activated 99% of the time, precludes any kind of "de-escalation" or normal self defense logic. Humans aren't designed to walk around or drive in this red zone for long, the mental stress is quite large .White and yellow are far less high maintenance. Black is even higher maintenance than red. Part of combat shock fatigue is having to live in red and black alert settings for so long the mind breaks down.

Grim said...

What counts as a 'deadly weapon' does tend to vary depending on what the DA would like to count. One time we had a guy who got into a barehanded fistfight where the other guy fell down after being punched, hit his head on something on the ground, and died. The guy was charged with aggravated assault, the aggravating factor being 'assault with a deadly weapon,' apparently meaning the Planet Earth.

That's how the law gets applied when the DA is against you, of course. That won't be the case here. Here, the same magic will work the other way around.

douglas said...

Let's consider:

-His call in to 911 identified a person with a knife, and possibly a gun.

-His multi tool, when folded halfway, could seem to look like a gun- certainly the picture of it halfway down the page here gives the sense that it’s not unreasonable to think so.

-If you see a multi tool handle, which is about the same at both ends, how do you know the blade isn't out but held back along the inside of the wrist, hiding it?

-His shouting at them "shoot me" tells you several things:
-He's got mental issues, meaning he's unpredictable
-He wants a confrontation ending in shooting

Given that, you have to ask these questions:

-How can I be certain he won't change his mind from wanting to die to wanting to take someone out?

-How do I know he doesn't want to take me or a few of us with him. It's not uncommon for suicidal people to want that.

-Is he willing to attack me to initiate the deadly force he seems to desire?

Now, there may well be a critique to level against the way they bracketed him in terms of escalating the situation (the one officer moving themselves into a corner, for instance, seems unwise), but in terms of the action in the moment of shooting him as he advanced, I find it difficult to find fault.

I will say, in watching and listening to the video, the female officers voice is more markedly exhibiting stress than the male officer you can hear in giving the command to drop the knife. He may have picked up on that and approached her figuring it was the best odds of getting shot.

Isn't disobeying a lawfully given command from an officer a violation of the law in Georgia? It is here. Once that command had been given and he keeps advancing, he's in the commission of a crime, and he's given the message that he's not interested in compliance.

There’s a lot we don’t know, I certainly don’t see grounds for conviction, and limited grounds for critique of management of the encounter, but there is some.

I think the most interesting question raised here is can you consider a phone call from a citizen identifying someone as ‘suspicious’ reason enough to treat them as a “suspect”? That’s a tough question.

The one thing I notice almost never gets discussed in the news or social media in cases like this is the toll this takes on the police involved, particularly the one who shot him- because he couldn't bring himself to kill himself on his own, and was selfish enough to drag others into it to do his dirty work.

Grim said...

"Isn't disobeying a lawfully given command from an officer a violation of the law in Georgia?"

Well, it's a violation of the motor vehicle code -- which is not consider a crime (as violations of the penal code are), just a "violation." The drafters of our laws mostly assumed that the police wouldn't just be going around ordering people to do things unless they were directing traffic, e.g., around emergency sites.

So, you know, it's like $100 fine.

I've already conceded that, once they got into this position, and especially for her given her specific circumstances, the decision to fire looks rational. The error isn't in her choosing to shoot at the end of the encounter, but at the way the unit was trained to frame an encounter like this.

raven said...

And another.

You know, I used to be on call list for when my neighbors alarm went off, as they took frequent trips. I am only down the street a few hundred yards. The the alarm company would call, I would go look around.
I don't do that anymore, for fear of running into a cop, responding to an alarm call, and mistaking me for a criminal.
There are so many times I hear of people being killed, who were not involved at all, with why the cops are there.