The Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in a case related to the death of a Baytown man who was fatally shot by a police officer in San Antonio in 2013. The issue being decided is about the status of private university police departments and if they enjoy the same broad immunity from lawsuits that public police agencies have.
Before the court is a claim by the University of Incarnate Word that the family of Cameron Redus cannot sue it based on the actions of its former police officer Christopher Carter.
Cameron Redus was pulled over by Carter in the early hours of Dec. 6, 2013. While Redus was a graduating student at the university, the alleged traffic offence occurred off campus, and the subsequent shooting death occurred at the off-campus apartment complex where he lived.
Carter claimed Redus charged him before Carter fired six times at point-blank range. The dash cam in Carter’s car was not working. He was not equipped with a body camera—technology that was not yet in widespread use at the time.
There is an audio recording that confirms the two were in a heated verbal exchange, but doesn’t apparently indicate whether or not Redus made any aggressive move.
A Bexar County grand jury declined to indict Carter in the death. He was placed on leave by the university after the death and soon resigned without returning to duty.
Mark Hall, who serves as the family spokesman, said the Redus family filed a lawsuit against the university both to create an incentive for private universities and their insurers to better screen and train their police officers, but also to gain access to investigative records that are still sealed. Six years after the shooting, Hall said, investigators have not even released Redus’ clothing to his family.
The state appeals court in San Antonio has ruled against the university twice in its claim to have governmental immunity. This appeal to the Supreme Court is the university’s challenge to the most recent ruling.
While the university is claiming governmental immunity in the lawsuit, it has also refused to release records related to the investigation, claiming that it is not a governmental entity and thus exempt from open records laws.
The Texas legislature has since changed the law to specifically apply open records laws to police departments operated by private universities.
Private colleges and universities in Texas may create police departments. If they do, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement must license officers and the officers have law enforcement authority off campus as well as on campus.
The court will hear arguments today, but is not expected to rule until April or May.
This ruling will only resolve the issue of immunity. If the court supports the lower court ruling, the Redus lawsuit against University of Incarnate Word will continue.