The justices said that the University of the Incarnate Ward does not meet the standards for sovereign immunity.
The Texas Supreme Court will allow the family of Cameron Redus to continue their lawsuit against the University of the Incarnate Word.
Redus, writes the San Antonio Express-News, was shot to death by a campus police office in 2013. His family filed a lawsuit against the university about a year and a half later. Until late last week, their case has been locked in appeals.
The university has claimed that it cannot be sued by the Redus family. In its argument, the school alleged that its law enforcement is immune from civil litigation, because its police force acts as an “arm of the State.”
The university is, in effect, alleging that it cannot be sued because its police force constitutes a “government unit.” And because Texas prohibits most litigation against specified “government unit[s],” that the Redus family’s complaint should be dismissed outright.
But the Texas Supreme Court ruled otherwise, finding that, as an educational institution, UIW does not act as an “arm of the State in its overall operations.”
“And though the University’s law enforcement activities benefit the public, its arguments for extending sovereign immunity do not comport with the doctrine’s historic justifications: preserving the separation of government power and protecting the public treasury from lawsuits and judgments,” the court’s ruling says.
Texas Supreme Court Justice Jane Bland said “sovereign immunity” does not apply to a university, which is not necessarily a publicly-operated entity.
“Although the university obtained state approval to form its police department, the university’s governing board is in charge,” Bland wrote. “That board is not accountable to the taxpayers or to public officials.”
Attorney Brent Perry, who is representing the Redus family in their suit against the university, said he expects the case to move to trial some time next year. He said there have been some delays in expected proceedings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re glad that we’re going to get a chance to seek justice for Cameron and his family, finally,” Perry said. “It’s never good to have justice delayed this long.”
“Getting to the truth is our major consideration,” Perry said. “We’ve been doing that for close to six years now, and it’s about time to get there.”
KSAT notes that the Redus family has filed lawsuits against both the University of the Incarnate Ward and former campus police officer Christopher Carter.
Carter, adds KSAT, attempted to pull Redus over after suspecting the student of driving under the influence. Audio recordings of the encounter suggest that Redus repeatedly ignored Carter’s commands, then “fought” with the officer. At one point, Carter threatened to kill Redus unless he complied with further orders.
The Caller Times observes that Carter, within one minute of initiating the stop, had established that Redus was unarmed. And while Redus was, undoubtedly, employing combative language against the officer, the encounter only turned physical after Carter “grabbed the student from behind” and declared him under arrest.
In the recording, Redus said he was “resisting” because Carter was choking him. He appeared incredulous that Carter was threatening to shoot him over it. The lawsuit notes that Redus weighed 120 pounds less than the officer, and that Carter should have been able to easily subdue him without resorting to lethal force.
Redus, who was “heavily intoxicated,” was shot five times at close range.