A bill originally intended to make private university police abide by the same open records laws as law enforcement entities operating in cities, counties, and at public universities was altered without public debate to allow campus police to conduct off-campus law enforcement actions even when there is no connection to university business.
Some of the bill’s original supporters were caught off-guard by the 11th hour change and now see the bill as a major setback by supporters of legislation to increase the accountability of campus police who venture off-campus to engage in law enforcement actions.
Senate Bill 308, sponsored by Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), was passed by the Senate and House and will become law unless vetoed by Gov. Gregg Abbott. Whitmire’s office did not immediately return a call seeking an explanation for the change.
The origins of the bill can be traced to two off-campus incidents involving allegation of excessive use of force by private university campus police against unarmed civilians that occurred in 2013, one near Rice University in Houston, and the other in Alamo Heights, less than one mile from the University of the Incarnate Word.
Officials at both universities have gone to extraordinary lengths to defend the right of university police to leave campus, enter a municipality, and unilaterally engage in law enforcement activities. The same officials argue that any records of such incidents are exempted from public disclosure because the officers work for private institutions. The same circumstances involving Houston or San Antonio police departments or police departments at public universities like the University of Houston or the University of Texas at San Antonio would require disclosure to the public and the media.
SB308 will now subject private campus police force to such open record disclosures. The bill, however, was altered to eliminate existing language in the state Education Code so that campus police can now engage in unrelated off-campus law enforcement activities at their own discretion. In such instances, there is nothing in the law that requires campus police to alert the municipal police department before they act.
On its face, the change represents a significant increase in police power at a time excessive use of force by police against unarmed civilians has become a major national issue, one that has led to continuing U.S. Justice Department investigations and attempts by Pres. Obama to address the issue and the concerns of victims.
UIW Officer Fatally Shoots Unarmed Honors Student in Off-Campus Confrontation
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 many inconsistencies in 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.
Click here to listen to and read about the audio. Click here to download a transcript.
Rice University Police Beating of Alleged Bike Thief Caught on Videotape
In the Houston incident, Rice University police were tracking via GPS the movement of a “bait bike” place on campus in an attempt to catch bike thieves. They stopped Ivan Joe Waller, a convicted felon, riding the bike at a nearby intersection. Waller was unarmed and did not resist arrest. A police video camera then captured two Rice officers striking Waller as he lay on the ground 13 times in less than 20 seconds while two other Rice officers looked on.
A Houston television station obtained a brief video clip showing the beating and Waller screaming in pain, but since then Rice officials have refused to release the video tape, any incident reports or even Waller’s mug shot, arguing that as a private university, Rice has not obligation to do so even though the incident occurred in the city of Houston away from campus.
SB308 originally was intended by Sen. Whitmore to make private university police adhere to the same transparency as public law enforcement entities.
“If they think they don’t take taxpayer money: One, watch what I do to their budget,” Sen. Whitmire told the Houston Chronicle in December 2013. “And two, watch what I do to their police department.”
Yet Whitmire allowed the bill to be changed and a single phrase excised from the Education Code:
“… provided these duties are [consistent with the
educational mission of the institution and are] being performed within a county in which the institution has land…”
If Abbott signs the bill into law, campus police will be able to venture into off-campus police actions even if they are not “consistent with the educational mission of the institution…”
“S. B. 308 does nothing to deter private university police from becoming involved in off campus incidents for which they may be poorly trained or equipped, a precise description of the circumstances that led to Cameron Redus’ death,” said Redus family spokesperson Mark Hall. “Just the opposite, with this change private police and private universities will enjoy greater protection from liability when their officers negligently kill or injure non-students in the surrounding off-campus communities. The regular non-student public will be subject to their full police power in all situations in all areas of the county with no additional training requirements or public oversight.
UIW Student’s Video Captures Tragic Aftermath of Cameron Redus Death
Commentary: Remembering Cameron Redus
Recording of Cameron Redus’ Fatal Shooting Released
Grand Jury Clears UIW Cop in Student Slaying
An Open Letter to District Attorney Nico LaHood
Redus Family: Recording of Shooting ‘Discredits’ UIW’s Story