Vanguard reactions to surveillance tape
Friday, 12 October 2012 08:15
The following are three student reactions to the surveillance tape viewed on Thursday, October 11. They were originally posed on facebook.com/TheVanguardUSA. They are opinion pieces and should be read as such with respect to each person's commentary.
The Vanguard's Editor-in-Chief Cassie Fambro's Reaction
Tonight, I went and stood where Gil died.
It's this little block of concrete. Nothing stands out. There aren't any marks or significance that would tell anyone that a life ended there. I wondered if there should be something, imagining roadside crosses and the like. I'm not sure.
The theme of the day is “I'm not sure.” I have spent every waking hour since I learned about what happened on this story. I've spoken with dozens of people. Those that saw the video before me. Witnesses, friends of Gil and everyone with opinions.
I scale through the comments on the Facebook page and I am addicted to knowing what people think and feel about Gil's death. I thought I had a grasp on what happened, walking in to the sheriff's department today. I was as prepared as I could be to watch someone die.
There's this room that they took us to called the Fusion Room. There are executive style chairs around a board table. Two large screens and a smaller screen beamed from the front of the room. The sheriff was shaky and I couldn't tell why. In moments like this, everything stands out. As the tape rolled, I immediately felt a wave of emotion.
He walks into the shot, naked. He disappears again. He comes back, striking the window wildly. It's one thing to see someone in clothes committing an act of violence. It's entirely another to see a naked man senselessly pounding glass with all of his might. It felt like a violation to see a man in his most desperate moment. My immediate reaction was that he was trapped in his own skin and he kept hitting that window because he needed help.
The helplessness of the situation rolled over me and crashed down in my stomach because I knew how this ended and just like in a horror movie, all you want to do is scream “stop,” as if they can hear you. The door on the side of the building swings open and I've passed through that door before. It swings open and Officer Austin comes out with his gun drawn.
I had expected him to have it close to his chest. He had it fully drawn. He is pointing it at Collar, arms fully extended. Austin backs up, away from the grainy camera angle towards the bike rack. Collar matches him step for step, and then sinks to his knees. To me, it looks like he's praying. I wonder if he's speaking to Austin who allegedly is telling him to get down, but since the video has no sound, there's no way to know what he said. He gets back up, approaching Austin again. Austin backs up step-by-step, gun still pointed at Collar.
The pace picks up as they make a clockwise circle around the lights and pillars that obstruct the camera's view. There's a banner that blocks the camera, and you can barely make out movement. That's when the sheriff said the shot was fired, when the sign was in the way.
When the banner is in the way, another striking moment occurs. A man, later whom we learn is a dispatcher in a grey hoodie walks out and looks directly towards what the camera can't see. He immediately rushes inside. It is unclear the exact moment that Collar was shot or if the dispatcher walked out afterward. Movement isn't over.
There is movement near the banner and you can make out two people standing. Collar has gotten back up, and Austin is once again backing up, this time counterclockwise. They make it to the other side of the banner before Collar collapses just in the corner of the camera's view and another officer is running up. Collar would not get up again, and flurried movement around him is all that is viewable. Multiple other uniformed officers are running towards the scene at this point. Chilling, because it's just seconds after the fatal shot.
The other officers may have been the backup that the Austin called. They may have been the backup that the dispatcher desperately called. That remains unclear to me at this point, and I think that will be central to the investigation.
You cannot make out Collar getting cuffed at the end of the video, but that's what we were told was happening in the movement after he collapsed. You cannot see what the officer does after shooting Collar.
You cannot see the shooting itself or truly determine how far away Collar was from Austin. In the video, you never see Collar touch Austin.
After the first viewing, I looked around the room. Some had seasoned poker faces, some had marked looks of marked concern.
For me, I felt a sense of disbelief. We were shown the tape once more. It's a little over two minutes long, but it felt much longer.
After seeing it the second time, I felt anger.
I believe that people should not judge the military or the police because we don't walk in their shoes. They have to make judgment calls that we have little to no comprehension of as civilians and to presume otherwise is naïve.
I am proud of USA's police department and all that they do for USA students. I'm glad that we have them, and I have a great deal of respect for many of the men that work in that office.
I think the actions of one officer should not dictate the perception of the entire police department.
So many things did not have to happen. Gil did not have to take drugs. Gil was an adult and he made a decision that doesn't need to be underestimated. The gravity of that choice ultimately led him to lose his life. (I believe it will come out later that it wasn't LSD because he exhibited signs more similar to something newer on the market.)
(By the way, drugs beyond weed are not normal at USA nor are they part of the “typical college experience.”)
Why did Gil go to USAPD? My gut says he went to get help.
Officer Austin did not have to be alone, and I want to know why he was alone. Alone and against a drugged naked man hitting a window, Austin came out with his gun. The sheriff remarked on that moment saying, “he was kind of stuck with it.”
Gil Collar should not have been shot because Austin should have never been alone and left to make the decision to use lethal force by himself. That is a failure in protocol, policy and action and I hope for the future's sake that no officer is ever left alone again. Austin likely had no way of knowing that Collar had allegedly attacked others and bitten a girl when he went outside. Did the girl report it? Was that where the other officers were?
I can't get inside of Austin's head to know what he was thinking when he pulled the trigger. I don't know if he could hear backup approaching or sirens in the distance. He made a call, and he took that shot. He will have to live with that for the rest of his life, and the investigation will have to rule on its justification. I can't rule on it because it's not on the tape.
The fact remains that whether you support that Austin did his job or that Collar posed a threat to Austin: Gil Collar did not have to die on October 6.
It fills me with anger all over again, anger I harbored for hours before night fell and I went to the police department to look at the scene for the first time since seeing the tape.
I went and stood where Gil died.
People are fighting each other about this case and forgetting that a person died.
Perhaps you should go stand there and think about it.
I think people would stop fighting.
Life is precious.
The Vanguard's Noah Logan's Reaction
Two minutes and twenty-one seconds seems like a relatively short time. On campus, a great deal of things can be accomplished in this amount of time. You can walk from one floor to another in humanities, wait in line to get a bagel, and I probably use less time when I walk from my dorm to the recreation center. We hardly ever relate two and half minutes to the amount of time it takes an eighteen year old student to show up naked at the police department and have his life taken from him.
However, the video from the security camera behind the police department revealed to us the entire scene of events from the night of October 6 in this short amount of time. It was difficult to take in. The lighting was fuzzy and Gil ran to many different areas where he and Officer Austin were not in sight. However, the video did answer a great deal of questions that have been asked by many students at South Alabama.
The first noteworthy section of the video is when Gil Collar starts to “knock” on the window of the police department. From the video that I viewed, Gil did not knock on a window. Gil appeared to be trying to break the window. He was using his right arm and was using an extreme amount of force and appeared to be very angry.
After about eight seconds of this Gil walks out of the frame and Officer Austin walks into the frame from the back door with his gun already drawn, Sheriff Cochran later informed us that this is the proper way of entering a scene with a possible threat.
Gil walked into the frame with his arms held out and although the video did not have any audio, Sheriff Cochran informed us Officer Austin was shouting for Collar to “halt and stop” and Gil did get on the ground for a couple of seconds and it looked like he was actually surrendering himself. I found this to be one of the more interesting parts of the video because it showed Collar was coherent enough to follow orders and put himself on the ground. However, this lasts for about three seconds and then he is back up chasing Officer Austin.
They reach the far end of the parking lot closest in the direction of Beta 1 and Gil seemed to flip like a switch and began sprinting towards Officer Austin. When Officer Austin had backpedaled back towards the doors, Gil Collar collapsed onto all fours and laid there for three to four seconds. Officer Austin continued to backpedal and appeared to make his back towards the the rec center and when Gil continued to chase Austin, Gill collapsed in a dark area of the camera’s view.
The most shocking part of the video to me is after Gil collapsed in the dark area of the screen. Gil appears to bring himself up to all fours three more times before he collapsed for the last time. Not even five seconds later, a second officer shows up for backup.
This sequence of events led to the most stirring reaction from the 15-20 media personnel present. Representatives from the majority of the news companies, including The Vanguard, asked Sheriff Cochran whether or not Officer Austin knew how close his backup was. Unfortunately, no information was available on that topic.
So all we saw was a situation that was out of control but if could have lasted about eight seconds longer, both officers could have overpowered Gil and bring him to the ground without lethal force. So the video is completely subjective because it does not show the smoking gun of the whole story, the thought process of Officer Austin.
Different media outlets will spin it in all directions but realistically, I find it impossible to further judge Officer Austin on the issue. Personally, I don’t think the video should be made public. I know that there is a just argument for such important footage to be made for the public but the general public really gains nothing by watching the footage.
When I watched the video, I really didn’t gain information that won’t be made public by almost every media coverage team. The haunting image of an eighteen year student collapsing onto the ground and losing his life will forever be prominent in my mind and there is no need to spread this out and letting it become a viral sensation that will just make it harder for the student body here at South Alabama to move on from this tragic incident.
The Vanguard's JT Crabtree's Reaction
Today, the Mobile County Sherriff’s Office allowed the media to view the security recording that was taken the night Gil Collar was shot by a member of USAPD. I was honestly excited and nervous about what I was going to see. Throughout the whole process, I was keen to keep from forming opinion until I had received all the facts. The biggest would be video evidence, which as a member of the media, I now have.
After watching the video, it was not what I expected. It started with Collar walking up to the police station, nude, looking at the door confused with palms out as if asking “What is going on?” He then walked away, out of frame of the camera, and then walked back in frame. He then proceeded to violently thrash on the windows of the police station and then walked away again. USAPD officer Austin then walked outside, gun drawn, to check what was going on. Collar then walked back towards and then began acting erratically. He was jumping around and flailing his arms around; clearly out of his right mind.
Officer Austin then backed away, still gun drawn, and Collar pursued him. He continued to back up until he reached the grassy area in front of the police station. It was here that Collar was shot.
At this point, backup arrived. One officer arrived from the side when Collar got back up. Collar pursued both officers, causing them to split up. Collar then went between both officers and started to head to the south side of the building, where the door to parking services is located. He then collapsed again.
To my surprise, he got up again, only on all fours before collapsing one last time. It was almost unreal. It looked like three officers were on the scene at this point.
Collar was not in his right mind, no doubt. And from watching the video, his description of 135lbs is deceiving. There was a reason he was such a good wrestler.
Officer Austin gave Collar plenty of time to back down. And over the course of more than two minutes, he ignored the officer and continued to pursue him.
Personally, I feel the officer was left with no choice. He was threatened, and Collar would not back down and there were no alternatives.
This is indeed tragic. But as Sheriff Cochran said, he thought the officer followed protocol. No one is at fault here. Perhaps the person who gave Collar drugs. This is a sad time, but everyone should using this as a time to mourn the loss of a fellow student, not blame one side or the other. Come together over this South Alabama.
Vanguard reactions to surveillance tape
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