Three former Texas Southern University students credited with helping expose a spending scandal that led to indictments of top administrators won a retaliation lawsuit against school officials.
A federal jury decided Friday that William Hudson, Justin Jordan and Oliver Brown were kicked out of the university and arrested as payback for criticizing Priscilla Slade, university president at the time, and other school leaders.
Known as the TSU-3, they are credited with exposing corruption that tarnished TSU and led to charges against Slade. In a plea bargain, Slade agreed to repay nearly $130,000 of the half-million she misspent in school funds on clothes, home furnishings and landscaping.
Jurors awarded actual damages totaling nearly $200,000 to all three students, and the jury is set to return next week to decide punitive damages.
“At least someone stood up for us, and the jury stood up for us,” Brown said in Saturday’s editions of the Houston Chronicle.
Peter Plotts, a lawyer with the Texas attorney general’s office who represented TSU, declined to comment.
Hudson, Jordan and Oliver were student government leaders in 2004 when they discovered TSU payroll documents that they believed confirmed suspicions of corruption within the administration. The students went public with the information, distributing fliers and speaking candidly with Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature about their accusations.
The students sued TSU officials in 2005, accusing them of thwarting their First Amendment rights by disciplining them for speaking out against corruption. The lawsuit alleges they were retaliated against for exposing the corruption.
Plotts had argued that the former students were disciplined for threatening or abusive speech. He said some of the students shouted at officials, called them names and made threats.
The allegations against Slade coincided with the discovery of a pattern of financial mismanagement at TSU. Gov. Rick Perry demanded the resignations of the entire nine-member board of regents, and the state put $13 million in funding on hold.
Since the indictments were announced in 2006, TSU has a new president and board of regents.
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