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"If You Hear Me Screaming" - A UCF Retrospective

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In Week One, the UCF Knights snapped their thirteen game losing streak with a win over FCS South Carolina State. We look back to the last time the Knights snapped a season long losing streak - UCF's inaugural Conference USA game. It is a story about a goal post being torn down. It is also the story of a tragic shooting.

Credit: Matt Pollitt

This is a sad story and it's a true one. There's a shooting, death, and heartache.

Like most true stories, it's ambiguous. It lacks an obvious hero. In this story there are bad choices and mistakes. Many of them, all building on the ones that happened before. Events spiral and bring people crashing into each other. Any way you look at the events that occurred there is sorrow surrounding the UCF tragedy.

Life is complicated like that.

Death, too.

***

It is September 24, 2005. The UCF Knights hadn't dropped the "Golden" yet. They're playing in downtown Orlando at the Citrus Bowl. An on-campus stadium is still two years in the future, though UCF is studying whether one would be feasible.

George O'Leary is the head coach and in his second season with UCF. The Golden Knights are winless at this point in the season and sit at 0-2 following losses to South Carolina and USF.

The Knights were also winless in 2004, O'Leary's first season. They dropped the last four games of 2003, when Mike Kruczek was fired and Alan Gooch served as interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

Going into a home game against Marshall the Golden Knights lost seventeen straight. It is the nation's longest college football losing streak.

***

Mario Jenkins is wearing a floral print shirt. Underneath it, he's wearing a green shirt.

This seems like it should be a trivial detail.

It isn't.

The green shirt will matter later on.

***

UCF's prior game was a loss to USF, 31-14. It is the first football game played between the two schools.  The seeds of a rivalry are apparent: it may be that a group of UCF fans beat up USF's mascot.

The several police agencies working the game against Marshall believe it, anyway. They're extra concerned about violence, rowdy crowds, and underage drinking.

To that end, two of the agencies will have officers not just in uniform, but also circulating through the crowds in normal clothes. That's the UCF Police Department and the Florida Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco. There are Orlando Police Department officers at the game, too. The OPD officers are all in uniform.

***

Earlier in the day, Mario Jenkins was in a tent near the Citrus Bowl eating pizza with a group of police officers. He talks real estate for a few minutes. One of the people with him is an OPD Officer named Smith. Maybe. Smith will testify he doesn't remember meeting Mario Jenkins in the tent, though other people will place him in the conversation.

The tent is the police hospitality tent.

Mario Jenkins is a police officer. With the UCF Police Department.

And he's still wearing his floral print shirt over a green shirt.

***

Hours later, the game will start. UCF will pounce on Marshall immediately. On the second play of the game, UCF's Paul Carrington hits Marshall's Bernie Morris from behind, forcing a fumble that the Golden Knights recover on the Thundering Herd's twelve yard line.

Five plays later, Steven Moffett will hit Brandon Marshall for a five yard touchdown pass.

The Golden Knights take an early lead. It is 7-0.

***

Jenkins is patrolling the Citrus Bowl parking lots. He's alone -€” something that goes against the orders of his supervisor -€” and he's made a number of underage drinking arrests leading up to kickoff.

Jenkins has a Nextel two-way, but no radio. He jokes that day to a colleague, "Hey, I don't have a radio, so if you hear me screaming . . . come and find me."

Mario Jenkins has a gun. What he doesn't have is something short of a gun. No baton, pepper spray, or taser.

There's an expression that goes: when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

***

Marshall and UCF exchange missed field goals. Soon, the Golden Knights are on a grinding 84 yard drive that takes 5:24 off the clock. Kevin Smith -€” the first true freshman to start at RB for the Golden Knights since 1992 -€” punches the ball in on a one yard run to make the score 14-0.

On defense, UCF has stuffed the running game. Ahmad Bradshaw has been held to 3 yards on five attempts in the first half. The Herd only has eight yards rushing in total. They'll end the game with only three more rushing yards.

UCF kicker Matt Prater hits a field goal, and the Golden Knights go into the half with 17 points. Marshall is still scoreless.

***

Around 5:00 PM, the game is still an hour away. Mario Jenkins approaches a woman whom he thinks might be drinking underage (she is 24, as it turns out). He asks for her identification. He's wearing his green shirt, having taken off the floral one at some point. Green is one of Marshall's colors.

Things start to go sideways.

A group of people start throwing beer bottles at him. Jenkins tries to identify himself a cop. A witness tailgating nearby quotes Jenkins as saying, "I'm a police officer, I'm a police officer. Stop. Stop." Jenkins is still being pelted.

Soon after, a guy in the group named Robert McLintock starts running.

And Jenkins starts chasing.

***

Matt Prater hits another field goal in the third. It's now 20-0, and Marshall looks bad. It starts to feel like UCF has things well in hand.

Not so. The Golden Knights fumble in their own territory. Marshall freshman defensive end Albert McClellan returns the fumble to the UCF 24. And with 2:21 left in the third, QB Jimmie Skinner connects with Hiram Moore for a touchdown.

The Herd are on the board.

***

Jenkins catches McLintock. Jenkins holds his gun to the side of McLintock's head. Things look dire.

This is where Michael Young comes in. Young is just a bystander. He's tailgating.

He doesn't know McLintock and he doesn't know Jenkins (it took a day, he says, before he learned Jenkins was a cop). And what he sees is a man in Marshall colors holding a gun to another man's head. He thinks a crazy fan is going to kill someone.

So Young acts. He puts Jenkins in a bearhug.  He picks Jenkins up. He wrestles Jenkins to the ground.  They are surrounded by a large crowd of tailgaters.

Somewhere in here, Jenkins fires a "warning shot." Or shots. The testimony later on won't be in agreement on this. Or when exactly Jenkins fired them, for that matter.

And then Jenkins shoots Young in the abdomen.

***

Fortunately for the Golden Knights, Marshall is not done making their own mistakes. They end up going for it on fourth and five from the UCF 35 yard line. They fall a half yard short.

There are still more mistakes to be made. On both sides.

There's a flurry of turnovers. During Marshall's second drive of the fourth quarter, Kareem Reid forces and recovers a fumble by Skinner. And then Moffett throws a pick, preventing UCF from capitalizing.

But on the ensuing Herd drive, Skinner tosses an interception to Travonti Johnson. The Golden Knights have the ball once again.

***

Officer Smith is patrolling on a bicycle when he overhears a bystander telling another officer that there's a man with a gun in the crowd around the Citrus Bowl. Smith goes to investigate while the other officer calls in the report.

On his way over, what Officer Smith hears is this:

Pop.
Pop.
Pop.

***

Prater makes his third field goal of the night with 5:45 left in the game, giving UCF a 23-7 lead. This game is out of reach.

The Herd do not lay down. Marshall moves the ball effectively on the next possession. The Herd go 80 yards for a touchdown in about minute and a half to cut the UCF lead to 23-13 with 4:12 left in the game. The two point conversion fails.

Then there is more chaos.

Marshall blocks a punt, recovering the ball at UCF's 16. But the Herd are now punched out. On fourth down, Skinner's  pass sails over the head of Shawn Lauzon.

***

Officer Smith passes a panicking crowd of people who run past him. Then he gets to the man with the gun in a green shirt.

Officer Smith sees Jenkins standing.  He sees Jenkins pointing his gun at Young. Young is on the ground. It's clear to Officer Smith that Young is injured or shot.

Now, Officer Smith sees Jenkins start to turn towards Smith. He thinks Jenkins will shoot.

So Smith shoots first and without warning. He shoots Jenkins twice in the back. Also once in the rear right arm.

Jenkins, in turn, shoots twice at Officer Smith. He misses. Then he falls.

***

In the waning minutes of the game, it has become clear the Golden Knights will win. The longest losing streak in the country is snapped (it is also the Golden Knights' first Conference USA win).  Fans are moving down, towards the field. They will spill over the fence. They will surround a field goal post. Some of them will climb it. And they'll take it down.

It looks like this:

***

There are two other law enforcement officers near the shooting. One of them is an ABT agent who aimed his gun at Jenkins during the struggle with Young. He had met Jenkins in the police hospitality tent, but does not recognize him now. The agent does not shoot.

The other is an ABT captain who, like Jenkins, is not wearing a uniform. He doesn't draw his gun. He is worried about what would happen if he did so while wearing plainclothes.

Only when Jenkins swings his arm towards Officer Smith to return fire does the ABT captain realize that two cops are shooting at each other. And only when the shooting is over does he get out the words: "He's a cop."

***

The goal post is too big to fit through the tunnel, but that won't stop the students, it can be broken down further. If you are heading back to campus, you might see large sections of it in the back of a pick up truck. And if you follow it back to campus, you get to see it thrown into the reflection pond and see elated students climbing it. A crowd surrounds and takes photos. And cheers.

Police officers show up, and then everyone runs like heck.

***

Years later, Young will still have Jenkins' bullet in his left hip. Young will be charged with a crime for tackling a law enforcement officer. Young will maintain that he did not know Jenkins was a cop until he was told so the next day. Nonetheless, he will be sentenced to six months in jail.

Mario Jenkins passes away from the result of the gunshot wounds. His estate will sue the City of Orlando and Officer Smith and lose. The trial court says, "Confronted with an imminent situation where Young's life, his own life, and the lives of others appeared to be in danger, Officer Smith lawfully used deadly force without warning."

Mario Jenkins' estate will appeal and lose that, too.

A report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will conclude that widespread failures to follow police practices contributed to the shooting. Also: "[T]he operation appears to have failed to incorporate many practices or techniques generally accepted to maximize officer safety during a plainclothes operation" and "there was no formal effort made to introduce the plainclothes officers to the uniformed OPD personnel involved."

***

This story is as deeply unsatisfying as it is sad.

It is an accumulation of mistakes piled one on top of another, over and over. A plainclothes officer in the opposing team's colors working without back-up, a rowdy crowd, an almost Good Samaritan. "Warning shots" that get fired. Officers who don't recognize each other. Utter chaos and tragedy.

Too many mistakes to be overcome.

Sometimes, that's how it goes.