The family of a Florida Institute of Technology student who was fatally shot on campus last week by police and school security officers is launching an independent investigation into the deadly use of force.
Police responded to the Melbourne campus shortly before 11 p.m. Friday after reports of a man armed with a knife attacking students.
A Melbourne Police Department officer and school security confronted the man, identified by police as 18-year-old Alhaji Sow, in a campus building. Both fired their weapons, striking him, after Sow allegedly “lunged” at the police officer with an “edged weapon,” Melbourne police said following the incident. He died at the scene.
Sow’s family has since hired a law firm to investigate the incident and why non-lethal methods were not used by the school security officer to subdue the teenager, attorneys said Wednesday.
“On a college campus, there will undoubtedly be mental health crises that will have to be addressed by the officials of that campus, and they do not always require lethal force,” Greg Francis, a partner at the firm Osborne & Francis, said during a press briefing with the family. “But campus security officers’ only mechanism of dealing with students is a gun. Untold lives will unnecessarily be lost and/or negatively impacted.”
Francis said the investigation will also look at the crisis management training for Melbourne police officers and Florida Tech security officers.
“We’ll get to the bottom of this unbelievably horrific situation. We’ll get answers for these parents and other students on the Florida Tech campus,” Francis said. “We do not want another life to be taken senselessly.”
Sow’s father told reporters that the family was looking forward to Sow coming home for the holidays. “But unfortunately, that is not going to happen,” he said. ” We just want to know why. Why Alhaji have to die like this? We want to know why.”
Francis said they are still investigating what prompted the incident, and that Sow had no history of mental illness.
According to the Melbourne Police Department, which released a timeline Wednesday of the alleged attacks, Sow was “acting erratic” and “attacked multiple students on campus” that night.
Sow allegedly attacked three women in a 15-minute time span, starting with a “physical struggle” with a friend at her campus residence hall around 10:30 p.m., police said. Sow allegedly slapped another woman as he ran from the residence and repeatedly punched another woman at a nearby campus parking garage, police said.
A 911 caller then reported a man believed to be Sow armed with a knife “attacking multiple people and chasing someone,” police said.
Sow allegedly broke into a dormitory, dropped the knife and struck a resident adviser several times before running out a back door, police said.
He then allegedly punched a man outside another residence hall before officers confronted him inside the building in a room, armed with a pair of scissors, shortly after 11 p.m., police said. Sow allegedly lunged at the police officer, “striking the officer’s leg and causing a minor injury,” the department said. The police officer and security officer then discharged their firearms, striking Sow multiple times, police said.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting. The officer is a five-year veteran of the force, police said.
The incident was captured on the police officer’s body-worn camera though won’t be immediately released due to the ongoing investigation, the department said Wednesday.
The identities of the police officer and security officer are not being released at this time.
A Florida Tech spokesperson directed all questions regarding the incident to the Melbourne Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The university will conduct its own review once the law enforcement investigation is completed, school officials said.
Sow, of Riverdale, Georgia, was a sophomore studying aeronautical science, school officials said. He was in his first semester, after earning college credits in high school, said Francis, who called him an “exemplary student.”
The university held a vigil Tuesday night in the wake of the incident and is offering counseling and support to the school community.
“We are committed to doing all that we can to support our campus community,” Florida Tech spokesperson Wes Sumner said in a statement.