Three years and one day after a University of Incarnate Word police officer gunned down 23-year-old student Cameron Redus in his off-campus apartment parking lot, the Texas Supreme Court will consider the university’s claim of immunity in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Redus’ parents.
The hearing is set for Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 9:50 a.m. in Austin. Justices will hear oral arguments in the case and question attorneys for both sides. As the petitioner of the appeal, UIW will go first. Each side gets 20 minutes to make its case.
The Redus family filed the civil suit against UIW and former campus police officer Christopher Carter in May 2014 after a Bexar County grand jury decided not to pursue criminal charges. Multiple pre-trial motions and appeals have been filed by UIW’s attorneys, including an unsuccessful attempt to move the case to a U.S. district court.
Cameron, an honor student and senior, was driving to his off-campus apartment in Alamo Heights in the very early hours on Dec. 6, 2013, after a night of partying with other graduating students. Carter, who was on duty and had left campus to pick up a meal at a fast food locale, was returning on Broadway when he said he saw a vehicle weaving in and out of its northbound lane. Although he didn’t know at the time that a UIW student was driving, Carter decided to pursue the vehicle, eventually pulling into the apartment complex behind Redus.
The ensuing stop escalated into a confrontation, one that ended when Carter fired his weapon six times at point-blank range at Redus, who was not armed. Carter later said he feared for his life as Redus charged him with an upraised arm after the two had struggled for control of Carter’s police baton.
Five of the shots struck Redus. An autopsy later showed that two of the shots would have been fatal, including one that entered Redus through the back, contrary to Carter’s account of shooting Redus as he charged towards him.
Carter was never charged and after a an extended administrative leave without duty, he eventually left the UIW force. It was his eighth or ninth job at many law enforcement agencies in the space of 10 years. He has since applied without success at other area law enforcement agencies.
Attorneys hired by the university are expected to argue that UIW’s police force should be considered an “institution, agency, or organ of government” and the Court should therefore “dismiss all claims against UIW and its employee,” according to written arguments submitted to the court.
Redus family attorneys will argue that the UIW police department is an arm of the private, Catholic university – not the government.
Many see the motions and appeals as one of many strategic delaying tactics on the university’s part, but UIW interim President Denise Doyle, then chancellor, has said, “We are using the law to defend ourselves. That is our responsibility.”
UIW’s motion regarding its status as a”governmental unit” was first rejected in spring 2015 by a Bexar County court judge, a ruling affirmed by the Fourth Court of Appeals later that year. Now the highest state court will make the final call.
If UIW is successful this time, “it’ll cause us to change our strategy,” said Brent Perry, a partner with Buford Perry in Houston. He and the Herring Law Firm, also in Houston, represent the Redus family.
Perry said a ruling in favor of UIW likely would lead the Redus family to file a case in federal court against Carter, Perry said.
If the Redus family prevails in Austin, its legal team intends to finally begin the pre-trail discovery process and conduct its own investigation into the evidence and facts of the case – independent of the investigation conducted by the Alamo Height Police Department and followed by the Texas Rangers.
Much of the evidence, including the clothes Cameron was wearing when he was killed, has not been released to the public or his family. That evidence can’t be released until the question of jurisdiction – whether UIW can claim “governmental unit” status – is answered by the Supreme Court.
Neither UIW officials nor the attorneys representing the university and Carter – including attorneys from Akerman, former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice (2004-2013) Wallace B. Jefferson and his associate Amy Warr of Alexander Dubose Jefferson & Townsend – could be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Decisions from the high court can take anywhere from six to eight months, Perry said, adding that “we’re guaranteed at least one more appeal before we go to trial and it will (likely be regarding) Officer Carter’s immunity.”
It’s possible that UIW will get a victory out of this current battle, Perry said, but “what they have certainly gotten out of this is two years of delay.”
What Happened to Cameron?
From previous coverage:
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 forensic evidence that contradicted 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.