Lawyers for the University of Incarnate Word have filed a lengthy and robust defense of UIW police officer Chris Carter who fatally shot unarmed honors student Robert Cameron Redus five times outside his off-campus apartment on December 5.
The university’s rebuttal of the Redus family’s wrongful death lawsuit comes more than one month after settlement talks between the university and family broke down. The family’s lawsuit, which does not seek specific monetary damages, was filed on May 6. UIW’s lawyers, in their counter-pleading, state that if the university is found liable in the student’s death its status as a charitable organization should limit damages to $500,000.
At issue is a tragedy that could rank as the worst in the Catholic university’s 133-year history. Autopsy results disclosed that Redus, a senior honors student who was legally drunk and who had traces of marijuana in his system, was returning home to his off-campus Alamo Heights apartment after a late night of end-of-semester partying at a North St. Mary’s Street Bar. Carter, returning from a 1 a.m. food run to a nearby Whataburger, said he witnessed Redus driving recklessly and apparently under the influence and decided to follow him instead of returning to duty on campus. Carter did not know the driver he was following was a UIW student, but exercised what university officials say was his right as a Texas peace officer.
Why Carter let a drunk driver proceed north from Broadway and Hildebrand all the way through the Alamo Heights commercial corridor without turning on his overhead lights or siren or attempting a traffic stop, has never been explained. The confrontation only unfolded once Redus reached his apartment complex, exited his vehicle, and headed toward his apartment.
Only Carter’s version of what happened next is known. An audio tape of the confrontation exists but has not been released to the family’s attorneys, the media or the public. UIW’s Monday filing portrays Carter locked in a life and death struggle with the unarmed Redus and finally firing his firearm six times because he feared for his own life, although he suffered no apparent injuries in the alleged struggle.
Carter said he fired six times as Redus, his fist upraised and cursing, approached him threateningly as the confrontation continued to unfold, Carter unable to subdue Redus and arrest and handcuff him. Yet the autopsy report asserts Redus was shot once in the back at point-blank range and once in the left eye, also at point-blank range, and at a sharp downward angle with the bullet exiting his neck, as if the victim were positioned well below the officer when the shot was fired. Three other shots that struck Redus were not deemed fatal. A sixth shot missed.
In its pleading Monday, lawyers representing UIW either deny the forensic evidence in the autopsy conducted by the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, or simply do not address certain findings that fundamentally contradict Carter’s contemporary account of the shooting. UIW lawyers, for example, state in their response that none of the five shots that hit Redus were fired at point-blank range, despite the coroner reports of powder burns on the student’s shirt. The shot in the back is not addressed.
“The circumstances of Cameron’s death should at the very least demonstrate the need for changes on the part of the university so that this tragedy can never happen again,” said Mark Hall, a close friend of the Redus family who has served as their spokesman throughout the ordeal. “UIW’s irresponsibly denying those needed changes should strike fear in the hearts of UIW students and the surrounding citizens, fear for their own safety.”
Monday’s UIW filing is not a typical lawsuit response. It offers an extraordinarily detailed, minute-by-minute reconstruction of Carter’s actions leading up to and throughout the confrontation with Redus that ended in his fatal shooting. University lawyers, seeking to justify Carter’s off-campus pursuit, assert that UIW police routinely conduct off-campus patrols of Alamo Heights neighborhoods, without explaining exactly why they do so. The lengthy narrative, which defends and exonerates Carter and justifies his decisions at every turn, will surely raise questions about why such context is emerging only now, six months after the student’s death and only in response to a wrongful death lawsuit.
The autopsy findings and the university defense of Carter and the administration’s unwillingness to revisit controversial campus police procedures have roiled some administrators and faculty, who have privately expressed deep misgivings about the case and the seeming conflict between the institution’s Catholic principles and its legal strategy of limiting liability by not admitting to any wrongdoing. The absence of longtime UIW President Lou Agnese on an extended sabbatical and world cruise with his spouse, Mickey, left many feeling the university was leaderless at a critical juncture and opportunities were lost or ignored to come to terms with the grieving Redus family and bring the tragedy to a close.
One administrator emailed the Rivard Report to privately complain that the university was rudderless and that lawyers were making all the key decisions rather than Catholic educators and leaders.
Student leaders have been outspoken in their criticism of campus police, and of the administration’s unwillingness to address campus police issues. At one town hall meeting with students, a university administrator suggested Carter, who has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, might be brought back on campus in an administrative position even while he is under investigation for possible criminal violations, a pronouncement that was met with strong protests.
“This is a tragedy on so many levels,” one UIW professor commented Tuesday. “The university hired a rogue cop with a bad track record and won’t admit it. He could have radioed Alamo Heights police that night to track a drunk driver on Broadway and returned to campus with his Whataburger.
He could have let Cameron off with a warning and walked him to his apartment after he parked his car. Instead we have a senseless killing that hangs like a cloud over the university. It never should have happened.”
*Featured/top image: University of the Incarnate Word. Photo by Nan Palmero.
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