University of the Incarnate Word. Credit: Nan Palmero / Creative Commons

Attorneys for the University of the Incarnate Word won a significant delay in the lawsuit filed by the parents of slain honors student Cameron Redus against the university and UIW police officer Christopher Carter by filing a motion to move the lawsuit from state to federal court.

UIW filed the motion on June 4, but did not publicize the legal move. The Rivard Report happened across the UIW motion while checking for updates on the case. The family of UIW student Cameron Redus filed a motion opposing the move on June 26.

Republican opposition to President Obama and his judicial nominees has left the legal dockets in federal courts in the Western District of Texas, which includes San Antonio, badly backlogged with no signs of relief.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra of Hawaii
U.S. District Judge David Ezra of Hawaii

A hearing on the UIW motion and Redus family’s opposition won’t be held until Oct. 30, nearly five months after the filing. It will be heard by visiting Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra of Hawaii. Senior judges, who often work full-time in semi-retirement, are assigned temporarily to districts where judicial vacancies make it impossible for sitting judges to keep up with the heavy caseload. Ezra served as the Chief U.S. District Judge of Hawaii until 2005. Interestingly, his official biography lists him as graduating first in his class from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1972.

Attorneys know that attempting to move a civil case from state to federal court, even if unsuccessful, can delay matters for months and reduce pressure on clients to agree to negotiate out-of-court financial settlements since they face no near-term prospect of a jury trial.

State district courts conduct civil trials with 12-person juries while federal courts use six-person juries in civil matters, and more important than size, state juries are drawn form a pool of citizens with driver’s licenses, while federal jurists are drawn from voter rolls. The assumption is that federal jurists are more engaged citizens and more careful in levying financial judgments.

The criminal docket in federal court, however, is so heavy that civil cases are heard with far less frequency in federal court than in state court. I asked a lawyer not involved in the Redus case who practices in federal court in San Antonio how long he thought it might take to get a civil trial date here. “Two years,” he replied.

A third reason attorneys seek to move clients’ cases to federal court is that federal juries historically have awarded smaller financial damages than state juries. UIW could face million of dollars in damages if a state jury agrees with the family that their son, who was unarmed and off-campus when he was shot five times by UIW police officer Christopher Carter, was wrongfully killed.

At issue is a tragedy that could rank as the worst in the Catholic university’s 133-year history. Autopsy results finally released three months after the December 2013 shooting disclosed that Redus, a senior honors student who was legally drunk and 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, on duty and returning from a 1 a.m. off-campus food run to a nearby Whataburger, said he witnessed Redus driving recklessly and apparently under the influence north on Broadway 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 prerogative as a Texas peace officer. UIW officials have since said campus police routinely patrol parts of adjacent Alamo Heights, a small municipality with its own police force, although no formal agreements exist ratifying such an arrangement.

A photo collage of Cameron Redus' life courtesy of his family.
A photo collage of Cameron Redus’ life courtesy of his family.

Why Carter let a drunk driver proceed north from Broadway and Hildebrand 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 legal filings in the lawsuit portray Carter locked in a life and death struggle with the unarmed Redus and finally firing his firearm six times at close range because he feared for his own life. Carter, however, suffered no serious injuries in the alleged struggle.

UIW police officer Christopher Carter
UIW police officer Christopher Carter

Carter said he finally fired as Redus charged him, his fist upraised and cursing, despite  dozens of verbal warnings to desist. Carter, who is obese, said the two struggled over control of his police baton and that he was unable to subdue the much smaller Redus and handcuff him.

The autopsy report, however, seems to tell a very different story. The coroner found that 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 lower neck, as if the victim were positioned on his knees below the standing officer when the shot was fired. Three other shots that struck Redus were not deemed fatal. A sixth shot missed.

There have been changes in the UIW version of events since the initial reports in December. The June 4 filing to move the case to federal court, for example, states that Carter observed a “highly intoxicated Redus driving dangerously and erratically on Broadway…” The narrative continues with the claim that, “After attempting to effectuate a traffic stop, Cpl. Carter followed Redus approximately 3/4 of a mile into an apartment complex…”

Redus was raised in a deeply religious family. His parents were devastated to learn he had been drinking and had used marijuana recreationally sometime in the recent past before the shooting. They have publicly acknowledged that he was in no condition to operate an automobile. By the same token, they say Carter had no reason to fatally shoot their unarmed son and that the incident was a violation of UIW policies and standard police procedures for dealing with minor incidents.

UIW, on the other hand, has grown more aggressive in defending Carter and his actions. Carter was an itinerant cop who seldom held a law enforcement job for very long, changing employment at least eight times in nine years. The Redus family believes UIW hired him without conducting a thorough background check into his frequent job changes, and then failed to subject him to any professional training.

The unresolved student killing has left the campus deeply divided, with students saying the administration has long ignored complaints about overly aggressive, poorly trained campus police officers. Various faculty members and university staff are privately critical of the administration’s defense of Carter and decision not to dismiss him and settle the lawsuit with the family.  They say the subject is taboo on campus, and openly challenging UIW’s legal maneuvering could hurt their careers.

The Alamo Heights police and the Texas Rangers announced an investigation into the shooting last December. Since then, there has been no word on their findings or a response to the autopsy report and how it contradicts the official version of events. District Attorney Susan Reed has not said whether a grand jury has been presented the case.

*Featured/top photo: University of the Incarnate Word. Photo by Nan Palmero.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.