The Texas Supreme Court will decide in the coming year if a private school can claim government status for its police department in order to avoid a lawsuit.
The case is a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Cameron Redus, a 23-year-old student at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio who was shot to death by a campus police officer during a December 2013 traffic stop.
The university, with an enrollment of 6,300 students, claims its police force is a government body and that that status extends to protect the university itself from being sued. The parents insist it is a private college and not privy to such protection.
“Neither UIW nor its Campus Police” are “the state or any agencies of government,” an attorney for the parents said in a brief filed this month.
The school’s lawyer, Amy Warr, told the court that “Immunity protects the government. Private university police departments are the government. Therefore, immunity protects private university police departments.”
She argued that the campus police department is “essential.”
The case was argued on Dec. 4. See video here.
The incident began when UIW police Cpl. Christopher Charter stopped Redus, who was weaving after an evening of drinking at a college bar. Carter said he shot Redus after the student took his baton and hit him with it. The Redus family claims that never happened. A transcript of the audio of the incident can be read here. A Bexar County grand jury declined to indict Carter, who is no longer with the department.
An appeals court ruled in favor of the Redus family in 2017, saying that “UIW’s police department is not entitled to governmental immunity.”
Roughly 70 public and private colleges and universities have their own police departments. To serve on those departments, officers are required to be certified by the state.
The university says that if it loses the case, it will be forced to eliminate or curb its police force, creating a burden for the local law enforcement agency.
“Protection from suit and liability is indispensable to effective law enforcement,” the university said in a brief.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].