Books, Bullets and Guns

TSU was failing in campus safety long before Ashley Sloan was gunned down

The university administration joined students and the community in mourning the death of Ashley Sloan, although its statements also defended the safety record of TSU prior to the shooting.

However, documents obtained by the Houston Press show that TSU officials were alarmed at the lack of security in student housing in the months before her killing. On September 2, then-TSU general counsel Lynn Rodriguez fired off a letter to Greystone manager Herndon:

Ashley Sloan's mother talked her out of military 
service, fearing it would be too dangerous.
Daniel Kramer
Ashley Sloan's mother talked her out of military service, fearing it would be too dangerous.
Chief Young says reported violence has decreased 
steadily in recent years.
Chief Young says reported violence has decreased steadily in recent years.

"I am writing to express the University's grave concerns regarding security at the Greystone student housing complex. Recent incidents at Greystone and at the University's other privatized housing complexes have led us to conclude that there is inadequate security at the complexes to protect our students and their guests."

According to Rodriguez's letter, TSU and Greystone had never even formally addressed the critical issue of who -- the university or the management company -- was responsible for providing basic security.

Rodriguez informed Herndon that she believed that they had agreed that the Century Campus Housing management company was required to ensure a safe living environment. Rodriguez refused to comment on her letter or on security in general.

"What it really comes down to is what is commercially acceptable in multifamily real estate as a 'standard of duty,' " says Century Campus president Short. He says that his company has installed closed-circuit cameras, improved lighting and cut back shrubbery to reduce the dark areas. "These are commercially typical responses," he says. "This is a bad world and there are bad people and we can't keep everybody safe.

"Considering the fact that TSU has put somebody there 24/7, there wouldn't be anything significant that we need to do differently," Short says.

Greystone is in the 3600 block of Rosewood, just off the campus and near the Tierwester Oaks complex where Sloan was shot. Tierwester and a third TSU-owned, student-only housing complex, University Courtyard, are operated by Ambling Management Company.

And Ambling, TSU documents show, also is engaged in arguments with the university over student safety.

Ambling regional vice president Tana Lee Higginbotham wrote TSU administrators on January 6 to protest that the school's financial aid department had not made scheduled payments to her company since October 20.

Higginbotham stated that the failure to pay more than $544,000 "has made it difficult to cover operating expenses including the contracted patrol service payments provided by TSU."

This was after dean of students Willie Marshall told her that the school was withholding the money because Ambling failed to provide security. Higginbotham did not want to comment.

The management agreements regarding security are surprisingly vague considering the safety concerns for an open campus in the Third Ward. With the nebulous terms, it's hard to say who deserves more of the blame for the security problem at the residential complexes, but it's clear who comes out losing in the end: students such as Ashley Sloan.

On the night Sloan was killed, she and her friends partied at the Canfield Apartments, a complex not far from Tierwester Oaks that's not affiliated with the university. At the party, one of Sloan's male friends choked a man in an alcohol-charged brawl over another girl. One witness said that some of the men referred to themselves as Crips gang members.

Apparently the young man with the bruised neck and the bruised ego left with a score to settle. According to HPD detective Abbondandolo, the man went to a nearby house and found Alex Morris, a slim 24-year-old.

Morris wasn't a TSU student, although he was hardly a nobody who just hung with the university crowd.

He was popular around campus, in part because of his well-known parents. Eileen Morris is the former artistic and managing director of the Ensemble Theatre of Houston, and she's directed and acted in area plays for years. Morris's father, for whom Alex is named, is a former Alley Theatre company actor who made it to network TV. He has a recurring role on Malcolm in the Middle and has appeared on Alias, The Practice and Frasier.

The younger Morris had been arrested in October 2000 for cocaine possession with intent to deliver. "He was a young kid who was going through some emotional problems regarding the fact his father was living on the West Coast and his mother was living on the East Coast," says attorney Shelton Sparks, who represented Morris in that case. "There's nothing that I could have foreseen that would cause him to do what he has allegedly been doing or charged with now."

Morris was not indicted in that cocaine case, but less than a week after his release he was arrested again. This time it was for selling cocaine to an undercover officer and resisting arrest. He received probation, but that was revoked after he tested positive for marijuana, morphine and codeine.

He had been out of jail for less than a year when he allegedly grabbed his semiautomatic pistol and walked into the night to find the man who had choked his friend. That companion and Morris entered through the Tierwester Oaks parking gate without incident and located their adversary's unit, but there was no answer.

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