Two years after being shot, UF grad student still undergoing treatment
Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 4:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 4:21 p.m.
Two years after he was shot in the face and seriously injured by a University of Florida police officer, doctoral student Kofi Adu-Brempong continues to undergo medical treatment as he works to finish his UF dissertation.
The shooting led protesters to demand changes in UF's police department and mental health services. Protesters say most of their demands weren't met, other than the university improving those services and the way it handles students in the kind of distress Adu-Brempong was experiencing before the shooting.
Sherry Benton, director of UF's Counseling and Wellness Center, said the shooting was a pivotal event that was one of the factors encouraging those improvements.
"Really among campuses, you'd be hard pressed to find a campus this big that tries harder than we do to reach out and be there for students," Benton said. "I think that was true before, and the Kofi incident led to people really trying to redouble their efforts."
A geography student from Ghana, Adu-Brempong was experiencing delusions about a plot to kill him when UF police responded on March 2, 2010, to a report of screaming from his campus apartment. After he barricaded himself inside and stopped talking with police, members of the police department's rifle team stormed the apartment.
Police failed to subdue Adu-Brempong, who uses a cane because of a childhood case of polio, with a Taser and other non-lethal means. When Adu-Brempong swung a metal table leg at police, Officer Keith Smith shot him in the face and hand. The shooting damaged part of Adu-Brempong's jaw and the roof of his mouth.
The shooting led to UF firing Stacy Ettel, the commanding officer at the scene, for violating police department policy. Keith Smith, who previously had been involved in an incident in which off-duty Gainesville police officers threw eggs at people they suspected were drug dealers and prostitutes, remained with the UF department until he was fired in September 2011 for threatening to shoot a man pulled over for reckless driving.
Members of the coalition that protested the shooting praised UF's commitment to mental health services but said administrators failed to address the group's other demands. UF doctoral student and coalition member Jose Soto said Smith's employment until the September incident showed a lack of accountability.
"They continued to put the Gator Nation in danger while keeping him on the force," Soto said.
Smith couldn't be reached for comment. He started working in October 2011 for the Titusville Police Department, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Adu-Brempong declined comment through his Miami-based attorney, David McDonald. McDonald said Adu-Brempong already has undergone reconstructive facial and dental surgeries and still is undergoing medical treatment for injuries suffered in the shooting.
The injuries hampered Adu-Brempong's ability to talk, a condition McDonald said has improved but is still an issue. Adu-Brempong hopes to finish work in the fall on his doctoral dissertation, McDonald said.
"He's tried really hard to move on and has done so," McDonald said. "His focus is forward, toward the future."
Adu-Brempong reached a settlement with UF that included the university paying medical expenses and allowing him to complete his doctoral studies. UF denied a public records request for the settlement agreement and the amount paid in it, citing state and federal laws exempting student education records.
Adu-Brempong also had faced criminal charges in the incident that the State Attorney's Office agreed to drop by 2013 if he underwent mental health treatment and met other requirements. A spokesman for the office said Adu-Brempong has followed the agreement.
Protesters had demanded charges be dropped immediately, the firing of Smith, the elimination of the department's rifle team and the establishment of a citizen review board that can investigate complaints against the UF police department. UF rejected those demands but established a police advisory board of UF faculty, staff and students that has met three times so far.
Soto said the board was a "slap in the face" of protesters because it failed to include the coalition in its membership and lacks real oversight. UF Police Chief Linda Stump said the committee has created a formal route of communication between the university community and department.
She said the group discussed the case involving Smith but hasn't had any other serious incidents requiring review.
"The good news is we haven't any major events that we've had to chat about," Stump said.
Protesters also had called for the elimination of the department's rifle team, something the department decided against. Stump said the team was used inappropriately in the Adu-Brempong case but has value if there was ever a shooter on the UF campus.
"That's what they're used for," she said.
In the wake of the shooting, UF commissioned the Vermont-based consulting firm Margolis Healy & Associates to recommend changes to university procedures. Benton said some of the most significant changes have been made to a behavioral consultation team, which looks into cases of students who are a danger to others or to themselves in a way that could be disruptive.
The team started meeting on a weekly basis and added faculty and staff to its scope. The Dean of Students Office also hired two case managers to manage cases referred by the team and launched "U Matter, We Care," a campaign to teach UF employees and students to identify people having serious problems and get them help.
UF Dean of Students Jen Day Shaw said an emphasis has been put on getting help for those who need it and that training is being done to help faculty and staff do so.
"I think everybody looked at what they were doing, how things played out, what can we do better," she said.
The Counseling and Wellness Center also added four counselor positions, although one remains unfilled because of a failed initial search. Benton said students in crisis get immediate attention and appointments for long-term issues now take about two to three weeks, about half as long as they did before.
Benton said such improvements came as a result of the Adu-Brempong shooting as well as other incidents such as a rash of suicides last year.
"There were changes as a result of Kofi, but there are changes as a result of anything that is a tragedy on campus," she said. "We're constantly evolving and constantly looking at what we're doing and trying to get better."
Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or email@example.com. For more stories on the University of Florida, visit www.thecampussun.com.
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