As you may have seen last week in the media, there was further activity in the civil lawsuit brought by the Redus family against the University of the Incarnate Word. As I have indicated in the past, each step of this lengthy process will likely be accompanied by news stories that may or may not accurately capture the arguments being presented in court or why they are being considered. I would like to address two related issues and attempt to explain what is in fact rather specific legal language and argument.
The key issue being considered this past week is related to the nature of the UIW Police Department and whether a state authorized police force, such as UIWPD, shares the same protections as other state authorized police departments. The SAPD, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department, and, for example, the police departments at UTSA or SAC, have certain rights because they are considered “governmental units” by Texas statute. The authority and responsibilities of these police departments derives from Texas law and when these officers act in the line of duty they act under the color of law. Since UIW must first be approved and authorized by the State of Texas to create a police force of licensed police officers with identical responsibilities to uphold the law, even when off campus, our lawyers requested that the judge determine whether or not UIW’s police force possesses the same protections as other police and is in the same way a “governmental unit.” Our lawyers made absolutely no claim that UIW is a “governmental agency” or “governmental body” because Texas statutes define those terms quite differently from “governmental unit.” We retain our private, not-for-profit status as a university, but believe there is immunity for the police department.
This is not the first time the status of police departments of private universities has been raised either in Texas courts or nationally. This is an important legal issue. The judge who heard the motion is considering all the legal arguments and announced that she will rule by Thursday, March 5th. If the motion is granted, then this case will be dismissed in its entirety and be concluded. It is likely that either way she rules, this question will continue in the appellate courts. If she rules in our favor, the plaintiff’s attorneys are likely to appeal and if she rules against us, we are likely to appeal.
This has led some observers or writers to suggest that UIW’s actions in defending this case is a form of stalling. Let me assure you that there is no advantage whatsoever for the University to stall this lawsuit. Rather we are taking very seriously the implications and consequences of this suit for the University. It is our expectation that our legal team will defend the University seriously and also that they will do so with integrity. We never lose sight of the tragedy that precipitated this lawsuit nor the family of Cameron Redus who are not merely “plaintiffs” but a grieving family.