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News Clips 02/14/2013
EDITORIAL: Questions for FAU
Source: Sun Sentinel, 02/13/13
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When two Florida Atlantic University police officers confronted a homeless man carrying a knife on the roof of a university building last week, the man ended up in an emergency room, shot twice by the police. Why?
That's just one of the questions FAU must better answer regarding Friday's strange encounter, which most students found out about from friends long before they heard it from university officials.
Was excessive forced used? Do university police have clear policies regarding when to use Tasers and when to use lethal force? Why were the officers not immediately placed on leave or administrative duty, as is customary in most police agencies after officers are involved in a shooting? Last but far from least, why was the university so late to inform students about the incident?
What exactly happened on that rooftop remains unclear. Police say Nicholas Squire, 22, tried to commit "suicide by cop." That could be. But while officers must make split-second decisions in the heat of the moment, it's fair to ask whether the shooting might have been avoided.
According to a police report, officers Bill Hernandez and Gary Grande walked toward Squire, who was standing in a corner near the edge of the roof. When Squire turned and saw them walking toward him with their weapons drawn, he pulled out a Gerber knife and ran toward them.
Hernandez fired his Taser. Grande fired two gunshots. Squire was taken to a hospital with two bullet wounds. Squire stands charged with aggravated assault.
Based on that report, it's reasonable to question the degree of force used by the police. Squire seems to have been more troubled than dangerous. Besides, a Gerber is a short-bladed knife — not much of a weapon against well-armed police. Couldn't two trained officers have safely disarmed Squire without shooting him? Wasn't the Taser enough?
Under Florida law, lethal force may be used only when a threat rises to the level of potential death or "great bodily harm." Given what little is known, it's reasonable to question whether Friday's circumstances rose to that level of threat.
And why were the officers not immediately placed on leave or administrative duty while the matter is investigated? Why did FAU not follow standard procedure regarding officer-involved shootings?
Beyond those questions, there is this: How could the university, in delaying the release of information, show such insensitivity to the environment in which students attend educational institutions in this era of exploding school violence?
The names Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook should be etched in the minds of school administrators at all levels. FAU even had its own wake-up call less than three months ago. Reports that someone was holding a gun to a student's head led to a three-hour campus lockdown.
Whether Friday's events warranted the same action, university officials owed it to students to announce immediately what had happened and to provide a real-time, accurate flow of information.
Instead, official word went out long after news — but not complete and accurate news — spread on social media. Amid the confusing early reports, students were left in an unnecessary state of anxiety about what was going on. Again, amid the backdrop of recent events, university officials should have been much more alert and sensitive.
Both the shooting and the informational delay have left FAU with a bit of a black eye. The university must offer fuller explanations and credible pledges to improve to move past this troubling lapse.