A year later, protests continue over UF police shooting
Published: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 1:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 1:12 p.m.
One year ago today, a University of Florida police officer shot a graduate student in an incident that led to demands for change.
Shooting protesters press demands
The Coalition for Justice Against Police Brutality will rally Wednesday at 12 p.m. at Turlington Plaza, before marching to Tigert Hall to press their demands. Protesters have made five demands since the March 2, 2010, shooting of University of Florida doctoral student and teaching assistant Kofi Adu-Brempong.
1) Demand: All criminal charges dropped against Adu-Brempong. Result: The State Attorney's Office dropped charges as long as he attends counseling and takes required medication.
2) Demand: An independent grand jury investigation of the shooting. Result: Protesters have dropped this demand.
3) Demand: Implementation of an independent review board for university police. Result: UF President Bernie Machen said he's creating an advisory board to provide input to police, but members of protest coalition say that falls short of their demand for a review board that can investigate complaints.
4) Demand: Indefinite unpaid suspension of the shooter, Officer Keith Smith, pending investigation. Result: Smith was put on desk duty following the shooting, but reinstated once an investigation cleared him of wrongdoing. Protesters continue to call for his dismissal.
5) Demand: Improvement of mental health and crisis services on campus to prevent another incident. Result: UF has expanded the scope of a group of officials who review cases involving students and others who pose a threat to themselves or others, is adding counselors and case managers, and is developing a public education campaign.
Protesters are rallying again today on campus to press demands that haven't been met. Chief among them is the fact that the officer who shot geography doctoral student Kofi Adu-Brempong is still working for university police and part of a rifle team that protesters want to see eliminated.
"We feel that that's a true insult and we're not going to stand for it," said Jose Soto, a protest organizer who is a doctoral student himself and a student senator.
Other changes are works in progress. UF President Bernie Machen said he's creating a police advisory board as a result of the shooting, but members of the protest coalition say that falls short of their demand for a review board that can investigate complaints. The university also is making improvements to crisis and mental health services, the coalition's final demand.
Adu-Brempong had been experiencing delusions about a plot to kill him when university police stormed his campus apartment March 2, 2010. Officer Keith Smith shot Adu-Brempong in the face and hand with a rifle when he threatened officers with a table leg. Adu-Brempong, a Ghana native who uses a cane due to a childhood case of polio, suffered serious injuries and continues to recover.
After a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation, the State Attorney's Office decided against pursuing criminal charges against Smith or the other four officers involved in the incident. UF police later conducted an internal investigation and fired Lt. Stacy Ettel, the commanding officer at the scene, for violating department policy.
UF Police Chief Linda Stump rejected the idea that Smith should have also lost his job, noting that he and other officers were cleared of wrongdoing. She said department policy clearly states that the Alachua County Sheriff's Office SWAT team should have been called to handle a barricaded subject, and Ettel was responsible for failing to follow the policy.
"Obviously we think the policies were in place for the right people to handle that situation ... and they weren't followed," she said.
UPD made minor changes to its policy regarding mentally ill subjects, emphasizing de-escalation techniques and the concept of "excited delirium" contributing to exceptional strength and aggression in some subjects. The changes stem from recommendations made by the Richmond, Vt.-based Margolis Healy consulting firm, hired in the wake of the shooting.
Machen told the UF Faculty Senate last week that he's also establishing an advisory committee to provide input to Stump on issues related to serious campus incidents and security. He said the committee will be comprised of faculty, staff and students, and details should be finalized before UF trustees meet this month.
The proposal falls short of protesters' demands for a review board with investigatory powers. Machen said such a board is illegal under state law, and he believes the proposed advisory committee addresses the crux of the demand.
"The issue is communication ... It's illegal to do what is being discussed out in the student sector," he said.
While some Florida jurisdictions have established police review boards, others have cited the state Police Officers' Bill of Rights as preventing such boards from being established. Gainesville City Attorney Marion Radson cited the law in advising city commissioners against creating such a board, leading them to create an advisory council similar to Machen's proposal.
Soto said the coalition will present its plan for a full-blown review board to administrators at today's protest. Machen had asked for such a proposal when he met in July with protest leaders.
Sharon Burney, a staff member who is part of the protest coalition, questioned the effectiveness of an advisory group. Burney, vice president of the Association of Black Faculty and Staff, said UF formed a similar committee after the 2007 incident in which university police used a Taser on undergraduate Andrew Meyer at a speech by U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
"There was an advisory board after the Tasing incident and that didn't stop (the shooting) from happening," she said.
The coalition also is calling for the elimination of the UF department's rifle team, called the Critical Incident Response Team. Stump said the team is intended to deal with active shooters and shouldn't have been used in such a situation, so no change in policy is needed. But protesters say the fact that Smith remains on the team lends credence to their demand.
Soto noted that Smith also was involved in incidents in 2008 in which Gainesville police officers harassed and threw eggs at alleged drug dealers and prostitutes.
"We feel that this serves as a poignant example of how the vetting process is not as good as it should be," he said.
Faculty Senate chair-elect Scott Nygren said departments across the university have responded strongly to the shooting. The Council of State Governments Justice Center's recent decision to pick the UF police department as a model site for dealing with mentally ill subjects was a recognition of the strength of its response, he said.
The advisory board should help the department both respond to complaints and communicate things already being done, he said.
"People may not be aware of how seriously the police department takes these criticisms," Nygren said.
UPD has not made significant changes to its training, although Stump noted that officers continue to receive Crisis Intervention Team training. She said 90 percent of officers have now received the 40 hours of training, which teaches officers methods aimed at getting treatment for the mentally ill and keeping them out of jail.
Officials in UF's student affairs and counseling center say they've also seen a cultural change in UPD, with more communication between their departments and officers on mental health issues. Sherry Benton, director of UF's Counseling and Wellness Center, said the changes come to a police department that had a good track record with such incidents.
"This police department — except for this one incident, on this one day — is the best that I know about for dealing with people with mental health problems," she said.
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or firstname.lastname@example.org.