Editor’s note (Tuesday, March 24 at 5:30 p.m.): A Bexar County grand jury has issued a no bill, or a decision not to pursue criminal charges, against former University of the Incarnate Word police officer Christopher Carter in the December 2013 fatal shooting of honors student Robert Cameron Redus. Click here to read the latest updates.
Originally published on Sunday, March 22:
Dear Mr. District Attorney:
Your election in November unseating longtime Republican District Attorney Susan Reed led many of us to hope that justice would be done in the December 2013 fatal shooting of University of Incarnate Word honors student Cameron Redus, gunned down outside his off-campus apartment by UIW Cpl. Christopher Carter, a campus cop with a checkered work history. You’ve been in office 75 days now and there is still no word of an indictment or even grand jury consideration of the case, despite compelling evidence that the police officer’s account of the shooting is flawed at best, and more likely an outright fabrication.
District Attorney Reed, it was clear, had no intention of moving forward with the case. Months after the autopsy and other forensic evidence was in hand – evidence that clearly contradicted Carter’s version of events – Reed had made no attempt to present the facts to a grand jury. With your election, and with all that has transpired in this nation involving police shootings of unarmed citizens, we are expecting more. It’s certainly reasonable to indict on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, if Carter lied about the circumstances surrounding an indefensible killing. If a jury were to conclude that the killing was the work of a poorly trained misfit of a cop who failed to follow proper practices and policies and provoked a wholly avoidable tragedy, a jury could return a verdict of involuntary manslaughter.
I have no doubt that the Redus case is testing your mettle in your first months in office. It’s one thing to campaign on the lofty ideal of justice for all. Now that you are in office, I’m sure you’re coming face to face with the very different reality of the system: powerful people pressuring you to close the investigation in the best interests of the community and the university. I’m sure it’s been suggested you can cite the difficulties prosecuting a sworn peace officer and the uncertainty of winning a conviction. The people didn’t elect you to move forward only with cases that are easy to prosecute.
It’s hard to prosecute a cop, even a cop that fellow officers know is a bad cop. It’s a sad truth. People close ranks to protect their own. And then there is the university and the Catholic community and its non-Catholic supporters who have helped build the modern UIW.
Louis Agnese Jr. has been president of UIW since 1985, an unprecedented 30-year run, longer than any other Texas university president now in office. He has built a board of trustees that, over the years, has included some of the most influential and wealthiest business leaders in the city. Many now have their names on some piece of the campus. To his credit, Agnese has taken a sleepy, unambitious college and transformed it into a vibrant campus with new degree programs housed in new red-brick buildings, and a strong athletic program, all bustling with the largest student population of any Catholic university in Texas. Agnese’s ability to woo the wealthy and secure philanthropic gifts and leverage debt is legend. All that said, the education outcomes there pale compared to say, St. Mary’s University on the Westside, where the graduation rate is a multiple of the one at UIW.
Agnese runs a tight ship. He doesn’t broker dissent, yet his response to the Redus shooting has mystified all but those closest to him. Why defend a rogue cop that should never have been hired in the first place, given his sketchy employment record of nine jobs at eight different law enforcement agencies over an eight-year career? At least one other local university saw that same record and declined to even interview Carter before his hiring at UIW. After his hiring, Carter displayed inappropriate behavior on campus in least one other occasion, an overnight dormitory confrontation of a young co-ed, yet UIW failed to discipline him then or take measures to curb his bullying behavior.
The university’s reputation as an institution espousing core Catholic values has been seriously undermined by the Redus case. Agnese and his brother, Michael, who oversees campus security, refuse to acknowledge Carter never should have undertaken his off-campus pursuit or engaged in the confrontation that violated establish law enforcement practices and ultimately led to Redus’ killing. I have heard from many students and faculty members appalled by the shooting and the university’s handling of the case, but faculty members say they’ve been warned not to discuss the case publicly.
Why the Agnese brothers didn’t move forcefully against the cop and put the UIW community and Redus family on the path to healing and more professional law enforcement practices inside the 19-member campus police force is a mystery. University officials have had the incriminating autopsy report and audio tape in hand for months, both of which make a shamble of Carter’s story. Carter said he shot six times in rapid succession as Redus charged him with an upraised fist, five of the shots finding their target. In fact, Redus was shot in his hip once, and straight through the back once, a shot that the coroner said left powder burns on Redus’ skin and severed his spine, leaving him paralyzed on the ground. He also was shot through the eye socket from above, the bullet following its downward trajectory to exit his neck nine inches below the entry wound. Was this Carter’s final shot? The coroner said both the shot to Redus back and the shot in his skull would have been fatal. Neither could have been made at Redus running forward to attack Carter.
Perhaps Pres. Agnese worries about UIW’s financial exposure in the pending wrongful death civil lawsuit, which the university has fought vigorously. Perhaps he saw the public and campus outcry after the killing as a challenge to his authority. Perhaps he badly misread the facts on the ground as he and his wife continued on a round-the-world ocean liner cruise and sabbatical in the aftermath of the killing. He may have been poorly served by his fellow administrators. Perhaps no one felt secure enough to challenge his handling of the Redus case.
It took Brent Perry, the Redus family’s civil lawyer, more than one year to secure a copy of the audio tape of the incident, and now he is prevented from releasing the audio tape to the media and public. He has shared some gleanings in interviews, and one of the most compelling facts is that it took Carter more than seven seconds to fire his service weapon six times at close range. To the unschooled firearms user, that might sound like a very short time. You and I know better, Mr. DA. These were not shots fired in rapid succession.
And what about Carter’s claims that Redus wrestled away his police baton and was striking him with it and that he feared for his life? The morbidly obese Carter would have engulfed the 135 pound student, who was inebriated, yet Perry said there are no verbal exchanges on the tape to indicate Redus had seized Carter’s baton and was striking him. Wouldn’t any cop under attack demand the assailant drop the baton? The Alamo Heights Police Chief Richard Pruitt reminded us of how unprofessional small town law enforcement can be when he held a press conference the Monday after the early Friday morning killing and parroted Carter’s version of events. Pruitt, too, has possession of the audio tape and the autopsy report, yet no effort has ever been made by him or the City of Alamo Heights to correct the record and distance the department and City from Carter’s account.
We now know from what little has been said about the audio tape, and from Perry viewing the video from a rear window camera in Carter’s police truck, that Carter’s justification for his off-campus pursuit of Redus is not supported by the evidence. Carter said he saw Redus speed by him on Broadway after recklessly hitting a curb on Hildebrand as he headed north to his apartment. Carter, returning from a 2 a.m. food run to Whataburger, was preparing to turn into campus off Broadway well north of Hildebrand, beyond his line of sight, and Redus appears to pass him on Broadway at normal speeds, Perry said. Carter did not turn on his overhead lights or siren as he pursued Redus up Broadway to the apartment complex, as he originally claimed, according to what Perry observed on the video. Once he did order Redus to stop as he exited his own vehicle in the apartment parking lot, we know Carter didn’t conduct a field sobriety test or inform Redus he was under arrest, didn’t read him his rights, or wait for backup if he feared some sort of dangerous confrontation with the slightly built, unarmed student who was steps away from his own apartment door.
Justice is not served by withholding the original audio and video tape from the public. The 13-minute long tape is in the hands of the university, the district attorney’s office and the Redus family. The only reason to withhold it from public and media now is to suppress it.
You alone have the power, Mr. LaHood, to see that the Redus family has its day in court. I have come to know this God-fearing family over the last 15 months, and I have never met less vengeful, more forgiving people. One life has been lost and cannot be brought back. The lives of the Redus family, parents and four brothers, now hang in the balance. If Carter is indicted and a jury decides to acquit him, at least then we will know the family and the community had its day in court. There should be a public airing of the evidence, and Carter’s story should be put to the test by one of your best prosecutors.
This nation is at a crossroads in terms of uniformed law enforcement officers using deadly force against unarmed civilians. That’s especially true for people of color, particularly African-Americans. But that doesn’t mean a white on white police killing of an unarmed civilian whose worst offense was partying too hard to celebrate the end of a school semester, is any less of a crime than a white on black or white on Latino or white on Asian killing.
Mr. LaHood, you promised in your campaign to speak truth to power and to see justice for all in Bexar County. You and I are not friends, but we’ve known one another for some years and your own family’ story is one that has sensitized you to the devastation of losing a loved one in a senseless shooting.
Your own mistakes as a young man and experience with the justice system is framed by you as a story of redemption. I believe the Redus case will determine what kind of district attorney you become: one who stands up to powerful interests and does what is right under the law, or an accommodating politician who perpetuates a system that delivers one kind of justice for the politically powerful and another for the powerless.
As the father of two young men, I write not only as a journalist but as a parent. It isn’t hard to put myself in the shoes of Cameron’s father. April 8 would be Cameron’s 25th birthday. I can’t, in good conscience, watch as this case plays out behind closed doors without speaking up. Now is the time for you to send a signal to the Redus family, to UIW, to the city, county, and indeed, the nation, that San Antonio will not join the blacklist of cities where a man in uniform with a gun, no matter what his actions, is above the law.
*Featured/top image: Valerie and Mickey Redus (center) bow their heads in tearful prayer during a candlelight vigil on the one-year anniversary of Cameron Redus’ death. Photo by Scott Ball.
Read more about Cameron Redus’ life, death, and family’s lawsuit here.