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Family still searching for answers one year after CSU shooting

The fatal police shooting of Zikarious "Snoop" Flint one year ago has become an ongoing struggle, as those involved seek resolution.

Mindful of the civil unrest and lingering distrust triggered by white police officers killing young black men in other cities, Columbus State University Police struggle to ward off such conflict here, initiating programs to help officers and students -- particularly black males -- get to know each other personally, so neither sees the other as an opponent.

What the 25-officer force needs now is resolution, said CSU Police Chief Rus Drew, who waits to see what District Attorney Julia Slater will do with a Georgia Bureau of Investigation report on its probe of the shooting.

Slater said an investigator with her office has been working on the file since it was finished in August.

Her job is to provide a full, critical review of the investigation, not serve as a "rubber stamp" for the GBI, she said. She has not decided whether a grand jury should review the case, she said.

Struggling most now are Flint's parents and siblings, who say no one called him Zikarious.

While they also wait to hear what Slater will do, they struggle to comprehend the loss of the eldest son who was more than an older brother. He was a guardian, a role he insisted on at age 12.

Snoop Flint

Asked what she remembers about her son, Shamanique Flint said the pre-teen didn't want her paying a baby sitter. To prove his point, he at 12 took 9-year-old sister, Amber, and walked from the baby sitter's home in Belvedere Park to his grandmother's place on Cusseta Road.

His mother, who was frantic when the baby sitter called and relieved when the children turned up, asked him: What were you thinking?

"He said, 'I told you I don't want anybody keeping me and my brothers and sisters. I can do that,' " she recalled.

She accepted his challenge, taught him to cook and clean for his two sisters and younger brother, and gradually increased his responsibility as he aged. She at the time was a single mother, having broken up with her husband, Homer Flint.

Homer Flint, 39, remembers how his son got the nickname Snoop.

The father's close friend Fred Walker gave it to the infant as the baby, shaking his curls, rocked out in a car seat to a song by the rapper Snoop Dogg. The boy got disgruntled if they played anything else, the father said.

Snoop attended schools here and in Alabama. His last high school was Spencer, though he wound up getting a high school graduate equivalency degree. He planned to train to become a welder, to earn a decent paycheck as he put himself through cooking school. He wanted to be a chef. Besides cooking for his family, he worked at Columbus restaurants such as Hooters, Fridays and Moe's.

When news reports March 31 said a CSU officer the day before fatally had shot 20-year-old Zikarious Flint, some of Snoop's friends didn't know who "Zikarious" was, his mother recalled. They'd never heard anyone call him that.

Sunday

Sunday is the least of days CSU police expect a crisis.

"Our staffing is driven by data and what times of day and what days a week are the busiest activity-wise, so our staffing level is far the lowest on Sunday afternoons," said Chief Drew.

Snoop's brother Amaru, now 15, recalls that around 11 a.m. that March 30, he saw his big brother leaving, and asked where he was going.

"I'll be back, little bro'," was the last thing Snoop said to him.

CSU Police Sgt. Ben Scott that day was assigned to security at a basketball game in the university's Lumpkin Center.

Shamanique Flint was getting ready to leave at 3 p.m. to go to work in a call center.

The college basketball playoffs known as "March Madness" were on TV, so Homer Flint that day was going to watch a game with friends.

Chief Drew was going to the Springer Opera House's Dorothy McClure Theatre to see his children perform.

All anyone can say about Snoop is that he and his friends were going to visit someone at Courtyard 1, a student housing complex along University Avenue north of College Drive.

CSU gave this account of what happened next:

At 2:35 p.m., someone reported seeing a man loading a gun in the gazebo just south of the main campus intramural field. A CSU officer got there in 3 minutes. Scott remained at the basketball game.

The responding officer reported the suspect ran when approached. The chase from the gazebo went into the adjacent student housing complex, turned east to cross University Avenue, went around behind the CSU law enforcement Command College and the Baptist student ministry next door, came back across the avenue and went into the intramural field just north of the gazebo.

On the intramural field, students were playing Ultimate Frisbee. That's where the officer chasing Snoop tried to Tase him.

For a Taser to work, each of its two prongs must hit a suspect to deliver the incapacitating jolt of electricity.

"It sounds like they hit him with one probe, not the other, so he continues on the run, through the Frisbee competition, and goes back into the Courtyard 1 housing area," Drew said.

Scott joined the pursuit. Ignoring commands to stop and drop the gun, Snoop ran south into Courtyard 1, CSU said.

It was near Building A off University Avenue that he turned and raised the gun in his hand toward the two officers in pursuit, Drew said.

Scott fired two shots. One went to the neck and one to the back.

By Snoop's side, officers found a semi-automatic .40-caliber Glock Model 22 pistol holding eight rounds, they said.

At 3:15 p.m., an ambulance took the critically wounded man to The Medical Center.

The alarm

Drew was still at the theater when he got the call.

"I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding me. Really? On a Sunday afternoon?' " he recalled. "It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, not when we expect this kind of thing to happen."

Shamanique Flint was leaving for work at 3 p.m. when the friends who'd been with Snoop drove up and said the police shot him.

She rushed to Courtyard 1, where an officer told her the suspect was at The Medical Center. He also told her the shot went all the way through her son, and he might be OK. "They'd seen people survive shots like that all the time."

She sped to the hospital, where she was told doctors were trying to "stabilize" her son, and she could not see him. A police officer came out to get Snoop's name and other information, as the authorities didn't know who he was.

The officer left, then returned.

"He came out, he looked me in my face and said, 'I don't know what your faith is, but if you're a praying woman, I suggest you start praying now.'"

Forty-five minutes to an hour passed, she said. Then doctors called her back to a room. From the look on their faces, she knew her son was dead.

"When I walked in that room and I saw their faces, and they're sitting there with their heads hung down, you know, I just lost it."

She was all the family Snoop had at the hospital then. She had called his father and other relatives, but no one else had arrived.

She was told she could not see her son, because his body was a "crime scene." More family arrived. All were told to wait for the GBI, which would investigate the shooting.

No GBI agent came.

"My family waited six hours to see my son," the mother said.

Finally around 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan told the parents they could see their son's body, but not touch it. The mother will never forget the sight.

"It was like they took so much from us on that day, because it's still so devastating, emotionally, physically, mentally."

The aftermath

After about a month on administrative leave, Sgt. Scott, then 43, went back on duty with CSU police. He has had no issues since, Drew said.

He has been with CSU since Aug. 6, 2012, after serving 17 years as a Columbus police officer. In 2004, he was named Officer of the Year.

He graduated high school in Prattville, Ala., and got a bachelor's degree in history from Auburn University at Montgomery. At CSU he was pursuing a master's degree through the Command College.

He is not at liberty to comment on the shooting, said CSU spokesman John Lester: "Sgt. Scott has been advised not to speak until all legal issues have been resolved."

Attorney Katonga Wright, daughter of longtime Columbus lawyer William Wright, is representing the Flint family. Though the family's perspective of what happened differs from CSU's, the two sides have a common interest: They want resolution.

Wright said the family likely will file a civil claim, but needs the GBI file for evidence, and can't get that until Slater decides how she'll handle the case.

"In an abundance of caution, we've gone ahead and put the state on notice of the civil claim and our intention to proceed civilly, but of course without having all the facts, it's very difficult to determine how successful a civil suit would be at this point in time," said Wright.

Like other cities, Columbus has had its share of police shootings involving white officers killing black men -- unarmed Kenneth Walker's fatal head shot on Dec. 10, 2003, among the most prominent. After multiple investigations, a grand jury review and federal review, the sheriff's deputy who killed Walker was fired, but not charged. The city eventually settled a civil suit with Walker's family.

The city government's most recent case involved a black officer fatally shooting an innocent black bystander after a bank robbery.

The officer mortally wounded Fort Benning firefighter Tony Carr after chasing robbery suspect Alrahiem Tolbert from Columbus' MEA Credit Union at 2944 Macon Road.

Also killed in the shooting was Tolbert, who while fleeing police took Carr's government pickup truck from the driveway of a house Carr rented at 2907 Gardenia St.

The officer opened fire after seeing Carr run from the house and get into the pickup's passenger side before Tolbert tried to run over him. The suspicion Carr was Tolbert's accomplice proved false.

After reviewing a GBI investigation of that case, Slater had a grand jury on May 14, 2013, conduct a "civil investigation" to determine whether a criminal probe was warranted. After six hours of testimony, the 20 jurors decided no further investigation was needed. The officer was cleared.

Court precedents on police shootings set standards for officers who instantly must act on a perceived threat. Those standards say the officer may be judged only according to the information available to him at the time. He is not accountable for hindsight, only for what he saw and reasonably inferred.

If Snoop had a gun he raised toward police after an extended chase, those circumstances favor the officer, under criminal law.

Chief Drew said the shooting spurred CSU to improve relations between students and police, starting initiatives through its Office of Diversity Programs and through its African-American Male Initiative, which aims to recruit and retain black male students.

Another CSU group, The Black Collegiate 100, also got involved.

Those efforts "allowed students to process what had happened, and us to provide them with some information about what happened, as much as we could," the chief said.

"I'll admit, we were not as proactive as we should have been, particularly with our Office of Diversity Programs. We had a relationship, and they would advise, but we really weren't pushing for the level of programs that really came out after the shooting to generate just honest, everyday dialogue between, particularly, our African-American male population and police officers," Drew said.

"I think that was definitely a very important after-effect from the shooting that obviously we didn't have before," he added.

Snoop's fatal shooting preceded more controversial police incidents around the country, particularly one in Ferguson, Mo., where demonstrations led to rioting. Because of those other cases, CSU remains mindful of the need for "transparency" in how its shooting is handled, and that's why it wants the district attorney's review finished, Drew said.

"We think that for both sides, it's very important for transparency, for these cases to be handled as expeditiously as possible, to provide that transparency, so we can maintain that level of trust with the community."

Another ongoing CSU effort is stressing to students and visitors that guns by law remain banned on college campuses in Georgia, whether the gun owner has a permit to carry a weapon or not. Without a permit, the offense is a felony. For someone with a permit, it's a misdemeanor, Drew said.

Struggling

In an interview last week with the Ledger-Enquirer, Snoop's family wept as they remembered him. Today his sister, Amber, is 19. Little sister, Kailah, is 12, the age at which Snoop fled the baby sitter to prove he could care for his siblings.

"Their big brother was their protector," Shamanique Flint said of Amber, Amaru and Kailah. "When I was a single mother, he was the other adult in that household. He took care of them; he made sure they were OK. And I had to send somebody to tell them that their brother was not here."

An aunt delivered the sad news.

The mother said she still struggles every day with her son's memory.

She doesn't believe Snoop had a gun. But she doesn't doubt that he ran. As a teenager, he'd told her once that he ran from police working at Columbus' Hollywood Connection amusement area because officers were harassing him and his friends.

"He never had a trust for law enforcement. He always felt like they targeted men like him. He didn't trust them. And you know, with what happened to him, I don't trust them either," said Shamanique Flint.

She had him cremated and kept the ashes. She didn't want to have to leave him here in a grave if she moved away.

The family will hold a 22nd birthday celebration for him on July 8.

Said his mother: "He always said, and this is ironic: 'If I get killed or shot, or something happens to me, I don't want a funeral. I want a party.' That was his outlook on life."

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