UTSAPD Chief of Police Gerald Lewis held several informal conversation sessions with students, faculty and staff following the on-campus demonstrations which occurred on Feb. 17 to discuss UTSAPD’s actions during the protests.
Lewis expressed his view of the actions UTSAPD officers took at the demonstrations.
“I think that [UTSAPD officers] both had great restraint and courage … I thought that they did a fantastic job, and certainly I commend them for their actions,” Lewis said.
In response to the frustrations some students have expressed regarding the lack of arrests made by UTSAPD officers, Lewis defended his officers’ decision.
“There was really no need to make an arrest, in my opinion,” Lewis said.
However, Lewis explained that UTSAPD had more to learn about the demonstrations before coming to a final decision.
“The investigation isn’t closed. It’s still ongoing,” Lewis said.
Lewis explained what he wants students to know about UTSAPD’s power to remove people from campus.
“The one thing I would want the students to really look at is understand the law,” Lewis said. “And understand the ramifications of us not being able to stop a group like that from coming on to campus … I don’t have that ability to stop these people.”
The law Lewis is referring to is Senate Bill 18, a Texas state law passed in June 2019 which established the right to free expression in the “common outdoor areas” of public colleges and universities, regardless of affiliation to the university or college.
This law restricts UTSAPD from removing outside individuals or groups from demonstrating on campus, unless they are disrupting the functions of campus.
“I would be looking at public safety; I would be looking at blocking fire entrances, [not] allowing people to go in and out disrupting classes. That would be my definition of disruption [of campus functions],” Lewis said.
Lewis then made a request to the UTSA community regarding incidents such as the one that occurred on Feb. 17.
“I think we have to continue to work in partnership,” Lewis said. “It can’t be an adversarial relationship. We cannot allow people to come from off of our campus and splinter us as a community — that, we can’t allow.”