A lengthy legal battle over the 2013 shooting death of University of the Incarnate Word student Cameron Redus by a university police officer during an off-campus stop reached the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday morning.

Redus’ parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against UIW in 2014, but university lawyers have since argued the institution should be granted immunity because its police officers are licensed and commissioned by the state. Attorneys for the Redus family contend that as a private university, UIW does not receive public funds, and therefore would not qualify as a governmental entity.

In March 2018, a decision from Texas’ Fourth Court of Appeals concluded UIW is not a governmental unit and therefore would not be subject to governmental immunity. UIW attorneys appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Oral arguments took place Wednesday in Austin, with each legal team arguing its case for 20 minutes.

“Immunity protects the government,” UIW legal counsel Amy Warr said. “Private university police departments are the government. Therefore, immunity protects private university police departments.”

UIW has operated a state-sanctioned police department for more than two decades. It is one of about two dozen private universities in Texas to do so, university officials said.

At times, justices interrupted Warr to ask questions about how a complaint against a private university police department could be addressed.

Warr told justices that concerned individuals could seek recourse from the Legislature and ask for permission to sue.

“It is important also that the UIW and its police department and its officers demonstrate that under the laws of Texas, they have immunity that is granted all other police departments,” UIW legal counsel Laurence Kurth added after oral arguments concluded. “That’s the argument we put forward today and we do so with all respect to the family.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus brief on behalf of UIW in July. In his brief, Paxton writes that UIW should have immunity because the school performs a state function.

Redus family attorney Brent Perry countered that for an entity to act as “an arm of the state” and have governmental immunity, the state would have to control the entity’s actions. This is not the case at UIW, he added, where the police department answers to the university’s administrators and its board of trustees.

“The [Fourth Court of Appeals] said … that just being a law enforcement agency wasn’t enough,” Perry said. “We’re back here today with UIW saying that being a law enforcement agency is enough. It is still not enough.”

Brent Perry, center, speaks to opposing counsel Laurence Kurth and Amy Warr after arguing before the Texas Supreme Court.

Both legal teams expect a decision to be issued by the end of the Supreme Court’s term in July. Perry estimated a decision could be handed down next spring.

The lawsuit stems from Redus’ death in December 2013 after UIW police officer Christopher Carter pulled the 23-year-old student over at his apartment complex near campus. Carter told Alamo Heights police he decided to follow Redus after he observed a car weaving as it traveled northbound on Broadway. 

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.