‘TSU Three’ Vindicated in Jury Trial

By August 6, 2008

The case of the "TSU Three" was resolved last Friday in the students’ favor with a major rebuke to Texas Southern University. The case surrounds events that took place in 2004 when three former TSU students (William G. Hudson, Justin R. Jordan, and Oliver J. Brown) were serving as members of TSU’s student government. They discovered suspicious payroll documents which they believed pointed to corruption within the TSU administration. The students heroically began publicizing their findings by distributing fliers on-campus and speaking with members of the state legislature. In retaliation, the college expelled and arrested the students.

The FBI took notice and conscripted Brown to become an FBI informant and record conversations with college officials during the federal investigation. That investigation resulted in a ten-year prison sentence for TSU’s former chief financial officer, Quintin Wiggins, and a plea bargain with former college president Priscilla Slade, wherein she agreed to repay $130,000 of the roughly $500,000 she had allegedly stolen.

In the aftermath of this scandal, it was clear that the students had done their alma mater a great service but had been arrested and expelled in the process. In 2005, they filed a civil lawsuit against the TSU officials who so shamefully violated their First Amendment rights. Showing the sort of shocking obstinacy that FIRE has come to recognize in college administrations over the years, the college’s lawyers consistently maintained throughout the trial that the punishments were unrelated to their protected speecheven after Governor Rick Perry demanded the resignation of the entire Board of Regents.

Thankfully, when a federal jury decided in favor of the three students, the jurors awarded a total of $200,000 in actual damages to the TSU Three. The jury is to determine punitive damages this week. As Patrick Gilpin, a former TSU professor and lead attorney for the students explained in a statement, "While this award will not give them back the time they lost in their lives, they will have a reconciliation with TSU."

FIRE applauds Gilpin and these brave students, who stood strong in the face of incredible administrative abuses and refused to back down. Interested Torch readers can find more about this case at The Houston Chronicle, ABC 13, and the Associated Press.