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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A year after the shooting of international UF graduate student Kofi Adu-Brempong by University Police, UF students and administrators are still working to improve policies to prevent such incidents in the future.

On March 2, 2010, UPD’s Critical Incident Response Team received a call about a disturbance in a Corry Village apartment on campus.

Adu-Brempong, who is disabled from a childhood case of polio, was mentally distressed and screaming loud enough to be heard by his neighbors, who called the police.

After attempting to negotiate with Adu-Brempong for about an hour, police attempted to subdue him with a Taser and a bean bag round, according to the police report.

When those failed to work, Adu-Brempong  approached the officers, swinging a metal rod.

It was then that Officer Keith Smith shot him in the head.

“The entire situation was tragic,” said UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes. “I think once the investigation completed its course, it pretty much reinforced the fact that we do have policies in place that are effective, but that those policies weren’t followed.”

Adu-Brempong, who agreed not to sue UF, reached an undisclosed settlement with the university in September, which will be funded with alumni donations.

Sikes said since the shooting last March, the university, the Dean of Students Office, UPD and student mental-health services have made adjustments to compensate for similar crises should they happen in the future.

She said more counselors have been hired and new training requirements have been implemented for UPD, campus mental-health counselors and employees in the Dean of Students Office.

According to Sikes, UF President Bernie Machen recently proposed the formation of a campus advisory committee for UPD. Machen will name the members of the eight-person committee,  comprised of students, faculty, staff and UPD officers, in the next couple of weeks.

“This is a year-round, perpetual advisory board that will be a sounding board on campus issues and police relationships with the community at large,” Sikes said.

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However, some students are still dissatisfied with the handling of the shooting and have even more changes in mind.

Members of the Coalition for Justice Against Police Brutality, a student group that spoke out against the university’s handling of the situation last spring, is planning another protest before giving a list of proposed actions to the university administration today.

Among the demands the group is making is the firing of the officer who shot Adu-Brempong with an assault rifle.

Jose Soto, a member of the group and the student senator for Corry Village, said Smith has a history of targeting minorities around Gainesville.

Adu-Brempong originally faced charges of aggravated assault and resisting arrest, but State Attorney Bill Cervone dismissed his case in June.

After the shooting, Smith was put on paid leave by the department and was reinstated after internal investigations were concluded in July.

Smith’s commanding officer, Lt. Stacy Ettel, was not reinstated. Sikes said the university’s investigation concluded that Smith was simply obeying orders, and the blame was not his.

Still, Soto said the coalition believes Smith has been irresponsible in his role as a police officer in the past, and his history of targeting minorities makes him a “rotten apple” in the university police force.

“We see him as somebody we don’t need in the Gator Nation,” Soto said.

The group is also demanding the creation of a UPD review board, which would receive input on actions regarding the police department, such as allowing Smith to be reinstated and put back on the Critical Incident Response Team.

Soto said a review board would be a step beyond the advisory committee that Machen proposed.

“We’ve seen ups and downs, but all in all there’s room to improve the police services at UF,” he said.

Sikes said the administration has yet to receive any input from the group about the new advisory committee. Such a review board, she said, is not permissible by law.

“Certainly we’ll listen to what they have to say, and we’ll see what happens after that,” she said.

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