More than 20 months after Cameron Redus was shot and killed by a University of the Incarnate Word police officer in an off-campus traffic stop, the UIW honor student’s parents sat in court Wednesday morning, listening to a UIW attorney argue that the private university should also be considered a “governmental unit” when it comes to law enforcement and therefore not liable under the Texas Tort Claims Act.
In March, a Bexar County grand jury cleared the now former UIW police officer Christopher Carter in the December 2013 fatal shooting but the Redus family’s civil suit against Carter and UIW, filed in May 2014, has yet to officially begin due to several pre-trail motions and appeals filed by UIW.
If successful, UIW could receive immunity from the Redus’ suit and any future litigation brought against it pertaining to its campus police force. Wednesday’s arguments were heard by Fourth Court of Appeals Justices Patricia O. Alvarez, Karen Angelini, and Jason Pulliam. It’s unknown how long they’ll take to issue a ruling, which could take as little as a couple weeks to several months.
“The only thing this appeal (has achieved) is delaying discovery and the lawsuit,” Redus family attorney Brent Perry told reporters after the hearing. Perry said UIW’s various filings of motions and appeals is a stalling tactic.
UIW Chancellor Denise Doyle firmly rejected that notion.
“We are using the law to defend ourselves,” Doyle said. “That is our responsibility.”
UIW appealed State District Court Judge Cathleen Stryker’s ruling in March that found the university is a private entity and therefore subject to civil lawsuits. While the current appeal isn’t the first time attorneys have argued the issue, UIW is now citing the recently passed state Senate Bill 308. While intended to make private university police departments abide by the same open records laws as governmental law enforcement entities, a last-minute addition to the bill allows campus police to conduct off-campus law enforcement actions even when there is no connection to university business.
While the bill does not exempt private universities from lawsuits, it does afford campus police officers greater protection from liability when acting off-campus.
The bill will not take effect until September and the Redus family hopes to then begin to receive a response to their requests for records. Until the appeal and pre-trail hearings are completed, Redus family attorneys can not begin discovery, obtaining evidence photos from the scene of the shooting, the Bexar County District Attorney’s files, or even the clothing worn by their son when he was fatally shot.
“The judges pointed out that there is no statute (or law) that makes a private university a public agency,” said Perry. “In the absence of that (statute), we’re in the wrong court right now, we need to be in a trial court.”
UIW attorney Mathew F. Wymer argued that legislative action is not needed because the state’s education code affords private universities the status and authority to create police departments and therefore act as a governmental agency in relation to law enforcement.
The Supreme Court’s decision in May in the case brought against Rice University established that university police officers are “officers of the state” and therefore have the right to challenge a trial court for immunity.
“Because the State of Texas recognizes that we are a law enforcement agency, there are certain rights and remedies that go with that. One of those is that you comply with the Texas Tort Claims Act,” Wymer said, who interprets the Rice ruling to mean that university administrators overseeing a campus police department also should be immune in such cases.
That decision did not afford Rice University the ability to claim that it is a government agency, Perry said.
“What the Supreme Court has said is that at some point the officer gets to argue that we don’t have a basis for suing him and we’ll have to come back here and deal with that issue at some point.”
What Happened to Cameron?
On Dec. 6, 2013, UIW honors student Robert Cameron Redus was driving home on Broadway to his Alamo Heights apartment after a late night of bar hopping, celebrating the end of semester with fellow students. A blood test would later reveal traces of marijuana and that Redus was drunk. UIW police officer Chris Carter, returning from an after-midnight fast food run to a nearby Whataburger, said he decided to follow Redus after he saw him driving erratically. Carter followed Redus north on Broadway more than a half mile, making no effort to flash his lights, use his siren, or pull him over. He had no indication the individual he was following was a UIW student.
Redus turned off Broadway on to Arcadia Place, and into the Treehouse Apartments where he lived. Only then did Carter turn on his vehicle overhead lights and order Redus, who had exited his vehicle, to stop. The incident escalated into a struggle that ended when Carter fired six shots at close range and killed Redus, including one shot into his back and another from a sharply downward angle into his eye that exited through his neck. Carter testified that all six shots, five of which hit Redus, were fired as Redus charged him with an upraised fist.
Despite the forensic evidence that contradicted Carter’s version of events, a Bexar County grand jury under newly elected District Attorney Nicolas LaHood chose not to indict the officer. UIW officials and their attorneys have refused to release records in the case, and for more than one year withheld an audio recording and a vehicle rear camera video from the family and its attorneys as well as the media and public.
Carter, meanwhile, continues to apply for law enforcement jobs, but so far has not found anyone willing to hire him as an uniformed officer or for an administrative position.
*Featured/top image: Cameron’s parents Mickey (left) and Valerie Redus look on as their attorney Brent Perry (right) speaks to reporters. Photo by Scott Ball.
Read more about Cameron Redus’ life, death, and family’s lawsuit here.