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It was a Saturday on campus when David Sedmak, a Rice University police officer, heard "Officer down, officer down!" on his scanner: Two members of the Houston Police Department had been shot downtown. Sedmak rushed to the scene to help his fellow officers.
But Rice didn't see Sedmak as a hero. Instead, the university fired him, citing "dereliction of duty."
The university said in a statement that its officers often assist other law enforcement agencies when the need arises. But Sedmak erred, it said, by not informing the university police dispatcher about where he was.
"Sedmak left his post when only two other officers were on duty and failed to notify his supervisor of his whereabouts for nearly an hour, which could have endangered the safety of our students and campus," according to the university.
The May 7 episode that led to Sedmak's controversial dismissal began when Jesse Brown, 20, was seen with a pistol as he tried to buy a ticket at the Greyhound bus station in downtown Houston. When HPD officer Fernando Meza, working an off-duty job at the station, confronted Brown about the weapon, Brown shot him in the hand. Soon after, Brown shot another officer, Timothy Moore, in the leg.
Sedmak said he arrived on the scene and prepared for a confrontation with the armed suspect. Several HPD officers came in after him and took cover behind his patrol car. Brown, who had been accused of shooting a 3-year-old girl, her grandfather and another man on Halloween in San Francisco, then shot and killed himself as Sedmak and the other cops closed in.
Both Meza and Moore were at a news conference Monday to show their support for Sedmak, a former Galveston police officer. The Houston Police Officer's Union presented him with a $2,500 check to help as he looks for new work.
Sedmak was stunned by the dismissal. "My only concern on that day was to render aid to these two officers," he said. "Quite frankly, I couldn't believe that after being in law enforcement for nearly 17 years that I was being relieved of my duty for running an assist to an officer."
Kevin Lawrence of the Texas Municipal Police Association agreed. "You don't fire a guy for this unless he's a chronic disciplinary problem," Lawrence said. "You call him in, you counsel him and you put him back out there. If he's a good cop, he's a good employee. You use this as a training opportunity."
(Rice University's Lovett Hall: Pat Sullivan/AP)