An arrest by a Rice University police officer has triggered a lawsuit that is challenging the department's authority to enforce the law away from campus.
The suit stems from a man's 2009 arrest on charges of drunken driving and felony evading arrest with a motor vehicle; charges that were eventually dismissed by the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
"These were violations against my civil rights," said Rasheed Refaey. "I did nothing wrong."
In July of 2009 Refaey said he was out with friends for an evening of dinner and dancing. Refaey said before heading home, he followed his girlfriend to the Medical Center Marriot on Dryden to drop off friends.
Refaey said he and his girlfriend parked their cars along the curb. Refaey said after his girlfriend escorted her friends into the hotel she walked back to his car to give him a kiss goodnight. Refaey said at that point he noticed a Rice University police SUV pulled in behind their cars.
"We didn't understand what he was doing or why," said Refaey.
Refaey said his girlfriend walked back to her car and drove off while he stayed in his car checking emails on his Blackberry. Refaey said after a few minutes he pulled up to the intersection and turned on to Main street to head home. Refaey said after he turned on Main he noticed the officer had activated his emergency lights.
"First I'm thinking 'I've done nothing wrong,'" said Refaey. "I wasn't on their property, I'm not a student, I don't have any association with Rice University whatsoever."
Refaey admits he drove for another 2 miles with the officer behind him before pulling over near his home. Refaey also admits that when he pulled over he got out of his car and confronted the officer, even using profanity.
"In hindsight not the smartest thing, but I wanted to know, 'Why are you pulling me over?'" said Refaey. "I was a little angry and I didn't understand why this guy was pulling me over. I did nothing wrong."
The officer wrote in his report that while patrolling Rice's BioScience Research Collaberative, which is one street away from the Marriot, he saw two vehicles blocking a lane of traffic next to the hotel with a woman leaning into one of the cars "kissing via the driver's side window." The officer wrote after the woman drove off he watched as Refaey's car "stayed motionless, in the traffic lane, approximately three car lengths from the intersection."
The officer wrote he activated his lights and started to approach Refaey's car when he drove off. Refaey adamantly denies ever seeing the officer start walking to his car at the hotel and never saw his police lights activated until after he turned on Main.
During the arrest the officer believed Refaey was intoxicated because he had an "unsteady gait, red, watery eyes and a very strong odor of alcoholic beverages coming from his breath." Despite these observations the officer wrote he did not perform a field sobriety test "for safety reasons." The officer does not explain in his report the nature of the "safety reasons."
Refaey recalls that while he was handcuffed in the back of the Rice police officer's SUV another Rice police officer showed up and two HPD officers stopped by the scene.
"So one of the Houston police officers says to the gentleman, 'Is he drunk?' 'Oh yeah, he's drunk.' And my reply was, 'How do you know?,'" Refaey recalled.
When Refaey was transported to the Houston Police Department to give a breath test, he said he was suspicious of the Rice officer's motivation and declined to give a sample without an attorney present.
"I said I'd be happy to do so as long as my attorney was along and present to witness," said Refaey.
Refaey also said he recalled the Rice police officer telling him there was other evidence against him.
"(He said) there's video and we can prove this, that and the other," Refaey recalled the Rice officer telling him. "My reply was, 'great, I want a copy.'"
Refaey's criminal defense attorney, Matt Alford, told Local 2 Investigates during two separate conversations he was also led to believe there was dash-cam video of his client's arrest. Alford said shortly after the video never materialized, both charges against Refaey were dismissed.
"I was his entertainment for the evening it seemed," said Refaey.
Rice University officials dispute that Refaey and his attorney were told there was dash-cam video of the incident because at the time of Refaey's arrest, the officer's vehicle was not equipped with a dashboard camera.
After the dismissal, Refaey filed suit against Rice University and the arresting officer claiming "false imprisonment" and "gross negligence."
"Even though the case was dismissed, the arrest is still on my record," said Refaey. "I don't need that."
"I think the officer handled it appropriately," said Rice University Police Chief Johnny Whitehead.
Whitehead was not Rice's chief when Rafaey was arrested, but he agreed to speak with Local 2 Investigates.
"Why do you think the DA's Office dismissed all charges against Mr. Rafaey?" asked Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
"I don't understand why the charges were dropped. My understanding, the DA didn't confer with the department on the charges," said Whitehead.
"You weren't even curious as to why charges of that nature were dismissed, something that serious?" asked Arnold.
"No, like I said a lot of times charges are dismissed and we actually have no idea why they were dismissed," said Whitehead.
"Why was no field sobriety test performed?" asked Arnold.
"I don't know I haven't asked the officer about that," said Whitehead. "It's not unusual for drunk driving arrests to be made where there are no field sobriety tests."
Whitehead did speculate the officer may not have conducted the roadside test because he may have felt it would have been unsafe to "unsecure" an already uncooperative and confrontational suspect.
Whitehead again said he had been given no explanation as to why the DA dropped the felony evading arrest charge, even though Rafaey admitted driving 2 miles before stopping.
"Most people when you put on your lights and sirens they pull over, and most people when they stop they wait for the officer to approach the car and he didn't do any of that," said Whitehead.
"The officers and Rice University have to be held accountable," said Rafaey's attorney in the civil lawsuit, Derrick Saulsberry. "They feel they can just get away with it."
Saulsberry argues the Rice University police officer had no authority to stop his client in the first place, because whether he was blocking traffic lane has nothing to do with the University.
Saulsberry said he believes the Texas Education Code prohibits police officers from private universities from enforcing the law away from campus property unless such action is consistent with the educational mission of the university.
"He's wrong, he's just flat wrong," said attorney Rusty Hardin, who represents Rice University. "The law specifically authorizes them to make arrests off campus."