Cameron Redus was shot and killed by a UIW cop in December 2013
The University of Incarnate Word is a private institution. That is, unless one of its cops, while off campus for a fast food run, spots someone driving erratically, follows them to their off-campus apartment, gets into a confrontation and then guns them down in the parking lot. In that case, according to UIW attorneys, that private school police officer was doing the government's work.
That's the basic argument UIW took to the Texas Supreme Court this week in its last-ditch attempt to toss a lawsuit filed against the university by the family of Cameron Redus, the 23-year-old student shot and killed by former UIW police officer Christopher Carter. On Wednesday, almost three years to the day after Redus' slaying, UIW went before the court to argue that the university's police department should be considered a “governmental unit" because its officers are licensed by the state. It's a novel argument, lawyers involved with the case say, and if the justices agree, UIW would be shielded from liability under the Texas Tort Claims Act.
Redus' parents say that would be a devastating outcome in their years-long legal battle to determine exactly what happened to their son. Their attorney, Brent Perry, says that if UIW prevails at the Supreme Court, it would allow the university to skirt responsibility for serious problems in how it staffs and trains its police force. "We think UIW is, bottom line, responsible for what happened," he told the Current
on Wednesday. "They didn’t train or control their officer, they sent him out poorly equipped, and a kid ended up dead because of it.”
Carter was off-campus for a 2 am Whataburger run on December 6, 2013 when he says he saw Redus hit a curb while heading north on Broadway. Redus, whose blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit, had been out celebrating the end of the semester with friends, and had just left Brass Monkey shortly before last call.
Carter had no way of knowing Redus was a student, and the university has never explained why a campus cop would follow a random car for several blocks off campus. Carter never attempted to stop Redus, and only confronted the student once he'd arrived at his Alamo Heights apartment complex, parked his car, exited the vehicle, and had started to walk toward his apartment.
Mickey and Valerie Redus, Cameron's parents, say answers have been hard to come by ever since their son's death – and what little information has been released, they say, only raises more questions. In Carter's version of events, Cameron, who was unarmed, resisted when the officer tried to handcuff and arrest him as he walked toward his apartment. Carter claims he fired his weapon six times because Cameron charged at him with a raised fist. An autopsy report released months after the shooting shows five bullets struck Cameron at point-blank range. One of the fatal shots hit Cameron in the back; the other fatal bullet entered through Cameron's left eye at a sharp downward angle, exiting the back of his neck. After UIW and Alamo Heights police refused to release any other information about the case, the Redus family sued the officer and university, hoping answers and reforms to UIW's police force would soon follow.
That hasn't happened. UIW's appeals seeking government immunity for a private institution has effectively stalled the case for years, Perry says, meaning there's been no discovery, no depositions, no public accounting of how UIW selects, trains and equips its officers. Carter was no-billed by a Bexar County grand jury in 2014.
"We can't see the clothing Cameron was wearing that night. We can't see any officers' reports, none of their testimony, or anything that was in the [district attorney's] file – we can't see any of that stuff," Mickey told the Current
. "We went to court because that was the only way we could get answers, and now, to me, they're just prolonging the pain and frustration."
"To be clear, UIW is a private institution of higher learning, and it is not claiming to be a public entity, but rather its law enforcement agency is entitled to the same protections that apply to all other Texas law enforcement agencies," the university's attorneys wrote in a prepared statement this week.
The Texas Supreme Court is expected to make a decision on the appeal sometime next year.