As families prepare for holiday reunions and celebrations, San Antonio has been shaken by two senseless shootings, one taking the life of a promising young University of the Incarnate Word student and the other leaving a San Antonio police officer in critical condition with a bullet lodged in his brain.
Shared feelings of unease, doubt and insecurity seem to hang like a dark winter sky over the city. Students and parents of students worry about the safety of campus life. How could what looked like a questionable off-campus traffic stop devolve into UIW Cpl. Christopher Carter, a campus cop, fatally killing Robert Cameron Redus, 23, in a volley of fire at point-blank range? Five of the officer's six shots struck the honors student from Baytown. Why was Alamo Heights Police Chief Richard Pruitt so quick to defend Crawford's decisions and actions?
Downtown at the still-new San Antonio Public Safety Headquarters, where police and fire fighters work hand in hand, officers talk quietly about one of their own, San Antonio Police Officer Robert Deckard, who was shot by fleeing armed robbers during a high-speed chase across county lines. Deckard wasn't even supposed to be on duty Sunday morning, but he agreed to come in to cover a shift for a friend.
We can offer prayers, we can express sympathies, we can nurse our own suspicions and fears, but we cannot know the pain and loss that family and friends and colleagues are feeling after the two separate shootings.
We can demand a thorough investigation into the circumstances that led to the off-campus shooting death of Redus at the hands of Carter. Getting to the truth would give the family some measure of closure and hopefully move UIW officials to enact public safety policy changes that prevent other cops from acting overly aggressive and eliminate unnecessary off-campus forays by the 17-person force. Nothing UIW does will bring back Redus.
We can hope for a miracle in the case of Deckard, 31, as he lies in a hospital bed, unconscious and in critical but stable condition, the surgeons saying the embedded 9 mm. bullet cannot be removed without causing further brain damage. We can donate to the fund SAPD has established in his name at the Generations Federal Credit Union (Robert Deckard Benefit Fund, Account #1523447, Tel. 210-229-1800). Credit card donations can be made by clicking here). But we can't give the 7-year-veteran officer known as "Bobby" his life and work back. He could survive his grave injury, of course, but nothing will ever be the same for him, his family members or his friends.
This is a good moment to stop and think about how we civilians regard police. We take them for granted, and everyone knows it. We expect them to enforce the laws, fairly, quickly, forcefully, just as long as they don't hassle us with traffic stops or tickets we don't deserve. When we suffer a petty property crime, we expect immediate action and a quick arrest, and we want our stolen bicycle back.
A bad cop is front-page news, while the unnoticed acts of a thousands good cops add up to nothing in the way of media or public attention. That might be human nature and understandable, but it doesn't make it any easier for the people in uniform. Cops know people don't think much about them until we need them.
In a democracy, we hold our peace officers accountable, yet rogue cops – the exception to the rule – do find their way into the system and often operate with impunity for longer than anyone can understand. Most are weeded out. Or are they?
Carter has held nine different jobs in area law enforcement in the last nine years. His is not a career built on success stories. His resume suggests an itinerant cop who wears out his welcome fast and then is moved along to the next job to repeat the cycle. It's doubtful there will be a job for him at UIW when the dust settles. Will he find another force willing to take him on?
Carter has changed jobs and uniforms so many times over so many years, it's impossible not to doubt his version of events. Here is the state record of his service as a police officer as posted by the expressnews.com. Readers who want to pore over every detail in the Redus case can read Express-News Reporter John Tedesco's account on the The Rap Sheet blog.
Mickey and Valerie Redus, Cameron's parents, deserve a full accounting of what really happened in Alamo Heights outside their son's apartment. If an investigation concludes that the officer acted wrongly, they deserve justice. Their son was a promising young man, but he was also their child. No father or mother should have to endure the pain of a child's senseless and violent death in the course of a questionable 2 a.m. arrest attempt. Robert's death was so easily avoided, it will only make it harder in the weeks and months ahead as the family and the public seek answers to two questions: What exactly happened, and why?
It seems evident that whatever between Carter and Redus, a possible driving recklessly or driving while intoxicated arrest deteriorated into a fatal shooting of an unarmed young man with no record of aggression. The Alamo Heights police, who were given the wrong address by a UIW dispatcher asking for backup, weren't present for the incident. Yet Alamo Heights Police Chief Richard Pruitt already has declared publicly that Carter acted appropriately. Pruitt has only third-hand knowledge of the incident, and seems far too certain of the facts – far too certain for us to have confidence in his account. His press conference assertions had the sound and feel of brothers in uniform circling the wagons, blindly defending a cop and a shooting that ought to be the subject of a genuine independent investigation rather than a knee-jerk defense.
I am struggling to be objective here: My wife and I have two sons, ages 29 and 26, and somehow we experienced the college years without any serious incidents. We know, however, that college is where boys and girls become young men and women and learn how to live independently. They also learn by their mistakes, which often include driving while under the influence. It's always wrong to get behind the wheel under such circumstances but it's not a crime punishable by death. So even if tests show that Cameron Redus was drunk that should not make his death acceptable. Peace officers are trained to take measures to prudently avoid situations escalating into confrontation and chaos.
Some questions and observations:
Carter should have checked Redus' identification. Once he confirmed he was home and had reached "safe harbor" he should have issued a written warning and sent the student to his apartment to sleep it off. No harm done, but don't let there be a next time. Instead he attempted to handcuff and arrest Redus when common sense and a cool head were the weapons best deployed in the situation.
There would be far more evidence to guide us in our assessment of this shooting death if Carter's vehicle had been equipped with a functioning video camera. UIW did not maintain its fleet of police vehicles to established standards. Instead we are left only with an audio recording subject to interpretation. When a San Antonio Police Department vehicle camera malfunctions, the vehicle is parked until the camera is fixed. SAPD leaders do not want to find themselves in a situation where a major incident occurs and there is no visual record.
Many people do not realize that Texas law allows campus police to pursue and stop individuals off campus. It's an authority fraught with potential for trouble, as it proved to be in this case. Carter was within his rights to follow Redus, but he should have used better judgement once Redus reached the Treehouse Apartments. Carter should have waited for Alamo Heights police, who were delayed by a wrong address, before moving to arrest Redus if he felt such an arrest was absolutely necessary. Since when are arrests made before conducting a field sobriety test?
Assuming Carter is truthful and Redus grew violent, why did the officer attempt to subdue him without law enforcement help? Had he awaited backup, one officer could have subdued Redus with a Taser or pepper spray, which Carter was not carrying, while one or two other officers restrained him with handcuffs.
A witness at the apartments allegedly heard Redus incredulously ask the officer if he was going to shoot him, shortly before Carter fired his service weapon six times. Six times? That strongly suggests he was not in control of himself emotionally.
Why did Alamo Heights police conduct a press conference to defend Carter's conduct before the incident had been investigated? While it is true the Texas Rangers have been called in to assist the Alamo Heights police in the investigation, Pruitt's defense of Carter undermines public confidence in the process. It seems like the investigation was closed before it was ever opened.
Cameron Redus didn't deserve to die last Friday morning, steps away from his own apartment, at the hands of a campus cop. A traffic stop of an unarmed college student with no prior record shouldn't have ended in death. This was a senseless killing.
Don't forget Bobby Deckard, either. A seasoned San Antonio veteran seemed to have done everything by the book, yet still suffered a grave injury early Sunday morning in the line of duty. His alleged shooter and the shooter's companion will stand trial for capital murder if Deckard does not survive. They will probably never be free to terrorize San Antonio again, but it's tragic that Deckard had to put his own life on the line to end their spree of crime and violence.
That's why a shaken city mourns one week later. San Antonio saw two good men cut down by gunfire this past week, and neither one deserved such a fate.