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Court: student injured at Texas College can pursue negligence claims.

ALVIN, Texas -- A police cadet injured during training at the Alvin Community College Police Academy can pursue negligence claims against an academy official, the Texas Court of Appeals has ruled.

The three-judge panel unanimously reinstated a suit by Terry Adams Jr. against Cliff Downey, who was responsible for administering and conducting the academy's daily operations at the time of the April 1999 incident.

Adams' lawyer, Chris Portner of Beaumont, said. "The law is pretty clear. The court made the right decision."

Downey's lawyer, Rick Lopez of San Antonio, said his client is considering whether to appeal further or to proceed to trial. Downey is no longer employed by the college, he said.

According to the decision, the injury happened while Adams was participating in training with handguns loaded with blank rounds. Downey selected Jesse Harris, an academy graduate who was a licensed peace officer, to oversee the cadets that day.

Harris criticized Adams' handling of a "suspect" being hand-cuffed and demonstrated how easily the suspect could have grabbed Adams' weapon, the court said. While Harris had Adams' gun, it fired, hitting Adams in the face.

His suit claimed that Downey had been negligent in authorizing the use of blanks for the exercises, failing to require cadets to use protective eyewear and allowing Harris, who had no firearms instructor training, to supervise the exercise.

Harris settled for an undisclosed amount of money, according to Portner. Two other defendants, one formerly associated with the police academy and the other a former faculty member, were dismissed from the case earlier because they were not involved in the incident, Lopez said.

A judge in Brazoria County District Court dismissed the case without trial, saying Downey had acted in good faith and is protected by official immunity.

But the appeals court disagreed and said a jury should decide whether Downey is liable.

In a decision by Justice Laura Carter Higley, the panel said Downey should have an opportunity to prove that a "reasonably prudent coordinator, under similar circumstances, might have decided to plan and administer the close training exercises as he did," whether or not he had been negligent.

The court said there is "contradictory evidence" on that issue to be resolved at trial. As examples, it cited testimony from other cadets and law-enforcement experts.
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Title Annotation:around the nation
Author:Freedman, Eric
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Jan 5, 2004
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