Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran revealed today that 19-year-old University of South Alabama freshman Gil Collar obtained and ingested LSD at BayFest Friday night before he returned to campus, stripped naked and assaulted people in passing cars. Minutes later, Collar was shot dead by a campus police officer, identified today as 27-year-old Trevis Austin, a four-year veteran of the force.
Cochran stressed that while his departmentâ€™s independent investigation has yet to reach any conclusions, it was trying to be as transparent as possible. Cochran said he will share video with Collarâ€™s family tomorrow that documented their sonâ€™s erratic behavior in the moments before he apparently rushed within five feet of Austin and was shot.
Cochran said Austin was left with no choice but to fire one shot into Collarâ€™s chest because he had no secondary weapon such as pepper spray or a taser and reholstering his gun would have left him vulnerable to attack. Responding to Collar pounding on the glass of the campus police department, Cochran said the video shows Austin exit the building with his weapon drawn, where he immediately encountered Collar.
"Itâ€™s important for the community to know we are being very thorough with the investigation and Iâ€™m trying to determine what led up to these events, what events occurred and of course any follow-up investigation,â€ť Cochran said.
Investigators have obtained sworn statements from witnesses who accompanied Collar to BayFest and saw him take LSD, as well as others on campus who later took photos of him as he approached passing cars naked and "assaulted a couple of individuals,â€ť he said.
A female told investigators Collar grabbed her arm and attempted to bite her. Cochran said at some point after those incidents, which were not reported to law enforcement, that Collar arrived at the campus police station, where his actions were recorded on video.
"When he arrived at the police station initially, he approached the door and attempted to come in. The door was locked and closed and he did not make entry. He walked a few feet away and in less than a minute came back and began very actively beating this window glass, just swinging at it as you could describe someone just as hard as they can hitting the glass trying to break in or get attention,â€ť Cochran said.
"The police officer inside the building heard this noise and has he exited a solid door he exited with his weapon drawn, his sidearm. As he exited you can see the subject approach him completely naked, no skiffies or nothing and very wet with perspiration, appearing to be totally saturated. [Collar] approached the officer and the officer had his gun out and the officer retreated and continued to walk backwards, you can see the officer was giving commands to him and continuously walking back. The suspect in the video is seen to jump down at the ground and lunge toward the officer a few times and make motions toward him and back up, but continued to press the officer as the officer had retreated some 50-60 feet from the area of the precinct.â€ť
Austin told investigators the action continued about 20-30 feet from the view of cameras, where Collar eventually rushed to within five feet of him, causing Austin to fire. Collar was never armed. He apparently stood up after being shot, but then collapsed and died from his injuries. Austin was put on administrative leave and the University has since kept quiet about the incident, out of respect for the investigation, Cochran said.
"In the use of deadly force, if someone is capable of overpowering you and taking your weapon away, then they are capable of using deadly force against you,â€ť Cochran said. "Once a police officer has his weapon out, then that weapon is available for the other person to take it from him unless he maintains control. So you have to look at it from that light.â€ť
Collar was reported to be a high-school wrestling star with a muscular build, although multiple media reports have stated he wrestled in the 130-pound weight class, one of the smaller classes.
Cochran said the case strongly resembles that of Joseph Annis, who died in 1998 after struggling with Mobile police officers on Government Street. Cochran was police chief at the time. The 27-year-old Annis, also under the influence of LSD and alcohol, had stripped naked and was dodging in and out of traffic and beating on windows, according to reports from the time.
Officers responding got into struggle with Annis, apparently putting him in a chokehold and subduing him. Within minutes he was having trouble breathing and later succumbed to his injuries on his way to a hospital. The cause of Annis' death was later determined to be strangulation and multiple blunt-force injuries inflicted by the responding officers, but they were cleared of any wrongdoing in an internal investigation.
"Itâ€™s a state of excited delirium,â€ť Cochran said of LSD users who react to the drug in that manner. "Thereâ€™s an angle on this and itâ€™s drugs."
Donald Briskman, a Mobile attorney who for a time represented the Annis family in the death of Joseph, said he's been on both sides of aisle, representing plaintiffs and defendants in excessive force trials.
"It happens all too often than we would like," Briskman said. "One time is too many, but there is always another side to a story."
Briskman said police brutality cases are handled similarly to any other criminal charge, in that they are based on internal investigations and grand jury proceedings. He said often, for liability purposes, even if officers are cleared of wrongdoing, they are effectively demoted to "in-house jobs" that prevent them from becoming involved in similar circumstances in the future. And on the civil side, peace officers have certain immunities provided by law. Either way, he said, it's unusual that a police officer faces any jail time for what is generally seen as upholding the law.
"I've never had a grand jury indict an officer in a shooting incident," he said.
Cochran said the District Attorney would be responsible for determining the criminality of the officerâ€™s actions, if there were any. University of South Alabama campus police do not carry tasers. But interestingly, Cochran said the DA could also pursue murder charges against the person who supplied the drugs to Collar.
Students are organizing a protest on campus at 11 a.m. Wednesday. A Facebook page dedicated to the event claims, "Gill Collar was unarmed and naked. Join us to make USA and its police force realize that this is unjustifiable and there were other means to restrain Gill besides killing him in cold blood. On October 10 join our protest around the campus police station to showcase our dissatisfaction with these events.â€ť
Meanwhile, Cochran said his department is urging people not to try the case in the court of public opinion, whether they support Collar or Austin. He said all the evidence will eventually become public record through grand jury or other judicial proceedings.
"I think itâ€™s so important that the public understand what happened and if we can be so totally transparent,â€ť he said. "You should not jump to judgment until you see or hear all of the facts of this case.â€ť
Updated at 3:15 p.m. to include the comments of Donald Briskman.