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Friday, May 14, 2021 — Houston, TX 72°

RUPD officer fired after responding to 'officer down' call

By Josh Rutenberg and Ruby Gee     6/19/11 7:00pm

A Rice University police officer has been fired after going off campus to aid police officers following an ‘officer down' call. RUPD fired Officer David Sedmak for dereliction of duty – leaving while on duty without notifying his supervisor he was gone.

On May 7, a man spotted with a pistol at the Greyhound Station at 2121 Main was confronted by an off-duty Houston Police Department officer and shot the officer in the hand after refusing the officer's commands. The man then ran to a nearby McDonald's where he exchanged gunfire with another HPD officer, hitting him in the leg. He then ran to the Amegy Bank parking garage on on St. Joseph parkway on Fannin Street. The shootings occurred about three miles from campus. Sedmak rushed to the scene, responding to a call of ‘officer down' on the radio. Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Municipal Police Association Kevin Lawrence said the officers then used Sedmak's car for cover while they returned fire.



Sedmak declined to be interviewed for this story.

According to Taylor, after Sedmak returned, he was put on leave with pay so RUPD could review the incident. Two weeks later, based on findings in the review, Taylor said he made the decision to fire Sedmak.

"Dereliction of duty is when you don't do something you're supposed to do," Lawrence said. "Sedmak did exactly what a cop's supposed to do, and that's why the [firing] is unconscionable."

Taylor said that because this is a personnel issue, he could not discuss the reason for the firing, or whether dereliction of duty was the sole factor in Sedmak's firing.

"The thing that nobody seems to be grasping is, this had nothing to do with his responding to officers that were down," Taylor said. "What we're dealing with is the process that was involved, and that he violated that process."

Lawrence said Sedmak claims to have called the dispatch office. However, once the shootout began, Lawrence said Sedmak did not have the ability to continue trying to reach the dispatch office.

Taylor said he believes it was at least 45 minutes between the time Sedmak left and the time he called his supervisor, and said Sedmak used a personal cell phone to call his supervisor. He also noted that RUPD records radio calls, and said there is no record of Sedmak attempting to call his supervisor before leaving for the crime scene.

"If something would have happened to him down there, we would have found out when somebody called us and said ‘Do you know your officer's been shot?'"

Taylor said HPD did not ask for involvement from other police departments and other agencies closer to the event were available, including the station for the South Central district and the main police station a few blocks away.

"There were plenty of other officers there," Taylor said. "HPD never called us."

RUPD partners with HPD and assists other agencies on a regular basis, including at least 40 instances since January 1, according to Taylor.

"Other agencies regularly call us because we have female officers to search female prisoners or have Spanish-speaking officers who can help out," Taylor said. "We have a very close relationship with HPD."

Lawrence said that partnership is exactly why Sedmak was justified in leaving campus to assist HPD officers.

According to Lawrence, the TMPA's position is that private police forces need to be subject to the same regulation as public law enforcement agencies, including open meetings and open records requests. Since Rice University, and therefore RUPD, is a private entity, it is not subject to such requests.

"We intend to draft legislation for the 2013 Texas legislature to do exactly that," Lawrence said of the intent to extend regulation to private law enforcement. "The authority to deprive citizens of life, liberty and propert should not be entrusted to a private institution, it has to be accountable to the voters."

Two other officers were on campus at the time Sedmak left. Taylor said Rice tries to keep a minimum of three officers on campus.

"Our officers form the perimeter of the campus," Taylor said. "There are no walls or fences on this campus.  The officers here are the visible fence to keep problems off the campus."

Jones College junior Caitlin Freeman said that she thought Rice handled the situation quite severely, but that they were correct in their assessment that he did drop the ball with up and leaving Rice.

"I commend him greatly for saving the lives of officers and performing a great service to Houston, and he should be honored for that," Freeman said. "While I do think it's a shame he was let off, as he was a faithful and good officer that protected the well being of Rice students, I did hear he hadn't notified his supervisors of his … leavings and that the place he saved those cops was far away, and there were other HPD stations closer by."

Duncan College junior Tiffany Chen said based on what she has heard, it seems like office Sedmak had good intentions.

"If he felt he was more needed somewhere else and other officers needed assistance, I would consider leaving my position too, though if it were me I'd get the permission of my boss first," Chen said. "I guess rules are rules, so it's understandable what Rice did."

Jones sophomore David Yun was of a similar opinion.

"Personally I think, he left his post and if there was danger in Rice, RUPD would have had problems too," Yun said. "So as an officer of RUPD, I believe he [was at] fault … his firing is justified."

However, Martel College junior Tom Xia said that he thought that the situation isn't so black and white.

 

"The way Officer Sedmak handled the situation was wrong, so he is no martyr," Xia said. "However due to the circumstances, I think a firing was too severe … there needs to be some middle ground for this issue."


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