On the surface, the University of Incarnate Word campus was a beehive of activity Wednesday. Students streamed out of classes for the noon lunch hour and gathered in groups as a cold morning gave way to a sunny afternoon. You could sense the coming of Spring Break at week’s end. Lines of cars jockeyed for position on a campus choked with student traffic The noise of heavy machinery filled the air along Broadway and Hildebrand where long-running public works projects are underway. UIW’s compact campus of red-brick buildings set amid graceful oaks and small green spaces, looked and sounded like any other small university with growing pains.
Under the surface, a different kind of pain cast its pall over campus life. It’s the pain of an unresolved tragedy that has left students feeling vulnerable and upset that too many of their questions are going unanswered by university officials. The Student Government Association hosted an open forum Wednesday on the status of the Cameron Redus case, inviting interested students to pose questions to university administrators in attendance. The students I spoke with afterwards said the forum left them more frustrated than when they arrived.
Three months ago, in the early morning hours on Friday, Dec. 6, UIW Sgt. Chris Carter shot and killed honors student Cameron Redus after pursuing him in his vehicle to his off-campus, Alamo Heights apartment and trying unsuccessfully to handcuff and arrest him. Carter fired his revolver point-blank at the unarmed Redus six times, striking him five times in a haphazard pattern that left wounds from Redus’ face down to his leg. An audio recording of the incident has not been released and the police vehicle video was not functioning, but all signs point to Carter not following standard law enforcement protocols and quickly losing control of the situation and then himself.
The fatal shooting is under investigation by the Alamo Heights Police Department, the Texas Rangers and the Bexar County’s District Attorney‘s office. The case is expected to go before a grand jury, but local authorities did nothing to build public confidence when Alamo Heights Police Chief Richard Pruitt called a Monday press conference days after the shooting and all but exonerated Carter even before a serious investigation was underway.
Circumstantial evidence suggest Redus might have been inebriated and might have unwisely engaged Carter in a struggle rather than submit to arrest. The ensuing struggle and fight over Carter’s police baton led each man to pummel the other, according to the account given by Carter. But nothing Redus did, whether it was drive under the influence or resist arrest off-campus by a campus cop, merited his shooting death.
Read the UIW Campus Police mission statement here. It’s hard to imagine anyone on campus believes the police live up to such ideals.
UIW officials, meanwhile, were slow to respond in a comprehensive and public way after the Redus shooting, resulting in a widespread perception – right or wrong – that the university and longtime President Dr. Louis Agnese were more worried about the school’s liability than the needless killing of a student and the fear that spread across campus about the reliability of the school’s 17-person police force.
“Do campus police carry firearms to protect students or to use in confrontations with students?” asked one young woman in the forum audience at Mabee Library on Wednesday.
Carter himself was an itinerant cop who had bounced from job to job, never staying long, leaving at least eight workplaces in eight years. People wondered whether he had been carefully vetted before being hired.
Dr. Agnese was traveling Wednesday, but Chancellor Dr. Denise Doyle and other senior administration officials attended the forum. Dr. Doyle stood at the front of the small auditorium to deliver opening remarks, first about the roadway and campus construction projects, then the arrival of the dean hired for the new downtown medical school, and the importance of students acting responsibly and carefully on Spring Break.
Finally, a student named Sarah stood up to question Dr. Doyle: “I will be honest with you, our biggest concern is the status of the Cameron Redus case.”
“We know students are concerned as are we concerned, “Dr. Doyle said. “However, we have not had results of the investigation by the Texas Rangers, the Alamo Heights Police as well as the District Attorney’s office. We have been in the same boat as students concerning Cameron Redus. The whole thing has confounded us. We know what we read in the newspaper. We aren’t hiding something.”
Dr. Doyle let another administrator, Douglas B. Endsley, vice president for business and finance, tackle the students’ questions.
It was an unfortunate choice.
Endsley’s office includes oversight of the UIW Police Department. UIW Police Chief Jacob Colunga did not attend the forum. As far as I could tell, no one in his department bothered to attend. It’s hard to imagine a more pressing matter that kept Colunga and others away, but it was left to Endsley, a CPA, to respond on behalf of the university.
In the course of his inarticulate, often non-responsive answers, Endsley made two extraordinary disclosures: there will be no major changes in UIW police practices and Carter is likely to return to work in an administrative role in the department.
Noting that there would some minor changes in the campus police manual, Endsley said, “We are increasing their (police) pay so in the future we can avail ourselves of a better pool of candidates.” He then hurriedly suggested such changes were in the works before the Redus shooting and should not be interpreted as a university response to the incident.
Students repeatedly asked why UIW police do not carry stun guns and pepper spray, devices in common use elsewhere, rather than be limited to a baton, handcuffs and service weapon.
“You can’t just start batoning and shooting people if you don’t know what else to do,” one student reasoned.
“It’s not like we haven’t thought about Tasers or chemicals before,” Endsley said. “A lot of times they serve only to enrage people so it’s unclear whether that would have helped … I think we can read lots of newspaper accounts where chemicals or Tasers were used that backfired.”
The questions turned to the campus police culture, with students suggesting police are more focused on policing than protecting students. The discussion veered off into student observations that many of the police officers were badly overweight and unfit for duty.
One student complained of a $60 ticket she had received because her campus parking sticker was placed on the wrong side of her windshield. Endsley rambled on about parking fees paying for parking garage construction, while a faculty member stood up and said he, too, had been ticketed twice for the same reason.
“The policy changed for where the sticker should be placed,” the faculty member said. “When the officer asked if I had read the manual, and I said I had, he said, ‘Well, then it’s your fault.’ And he gave me the ticket.”
More such complaints ensued.
“This was tragedy and we want the best police department,” Endsley said. “I think we’ve had a good police department and we can always do better and that’s our response.”
SGA President Jonathan “Johnny” Guajardo told the gathering that a Campus Safety Committee had been organized in the wake of the Redus shooting, and would be making specific recommendations to Dr. Agnese and the school administration. He said the committee had spent two weeks unsuccessfully trying to get Chief Colunga to respond to emails asking about the status of Carter’s employment.
“Will the committee’s recommendations be given serious consideration?” Guajardo asked Endsley.
Endsley issued a tentative and guarded yes, and then surprised students by saying, “Right now Carter is on administrative leave at home. When we get the police report back and we find out what it going to happen at the grand jury … there is a good chance he will return to work and he would do so in an administrative capacity.”
None of the university administrators stood to speak in memory of Redus and his time on campus, and the family of Cameron Redus was never mentioned once in the open forum. To be fair, this wasn’t a memorial service, but it also can be said that beyond the opening prayer delivered by Guajardo there wasn’t a sense of guiding spirituality in the room, either.
Dr. Agnese is one of the longest serving university presidents in the state and probably the nation. In his two decades-plus at Incarnate Word, he has transformed the school from a small, quiet Catholic college to something much more ambitious, establishing global campuses, new schools and degree programs, a stronger faculty, and a mini-building boom on the main campus. A new medical school downtown is on the drawing board. Enrollment has tripled since 2000 to more than 9,000 students, making it the state’s largest catholic university.
The challenge Dr. Agnese now faces is to build something else: a culture of trust and security.
That can’t be done by bringing back a police officer who emptied his pistol into a student after a traffic stop. It can’t be done by jumping ahead of an investigation and saying there will be no significant changes in campus police practices.
Most of all, it can’t be done until the university finds a way to say one of its employees erred grievously, resulting in the tragic loss of one of the university’s own honor students, a young man who Dr. Agnese and other administrators personally knew.
Cameron Redus’ presence can still be sensed on campus, mostly in the voices of the students whose questions are not being answered.
*Featured/top image: The University of the Incarnate Word. Photo by Iris Dimmick.