The un­set­tling San­ders shoot­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

The ca­su­alty list in the shoot­ing death of Nathaniel San­ders II is ex­ten­sive. San­ders died, and one of his com­pan­ions was wounded. The city at­tor­ney lost his job. An in­ter­nal af­fairs de­tec­tive was fired, as was Leonardo Quin­tana, the of­fi­cer who fired the shot that killed San­ders — al­though that ter­mi­na­tion was not di­rectly con­nected to the May 2009 shoot­ing.

That toll does not in­clude the com­mu­nity di­vi­sion that the case sparked and con­tin­ues to feed.

The Amer­i­can-States­man’s Tony Plo­het­ski and Marty Toohey re­ported last week that the city and the San­ders fam­ily are close to set­tling a fed­eral civil rights law­suit for a re­ported $750,000.

Any lawyer will tell you that tak­ing a case to a jury is a gam­ble. Given the self­in­flicted dam­age the city did in this case — from the ques­tion­able in­ter­nal af­fairs ap­proach that cost De­tec­tive Chris Dunn his job to the at­tempt to seal a crit­i­cal anal­y­sis of the shoot­ing by an out­side con­sul­tant firm — the set­tle­ment amount might be viewed as cut­ting the city’s losses.

Quin­tana’s tac­tics in ap­proach­ing Sand- ers and his com­pan­ions drew crit­i­cism from the po­lice chief. Quin­tana shot San­ders in an apart­ment com­plex park­ing lot af­ter they strug­gled for a gun San­ders had at his waist, of­fi­cials said.

A Travis County grand jury de­clined to in­dict the of­fi­cer, which means that it saw no crime in what he did. That is a far cry from val­i­dat­ing Quin­tana’s judg­ment.

Though the San­ders fam­ily lost a son, the bru­tal fact is that the loss was in progress be­fore his en­counter with Quin­tana in an East Austin park­ing lot. San­ders was an armed pas­sen­ger in a car that was re­ported as be­ing in­volved in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

How a jury would re­act to the case will be im­pos­si­ble to know if the case is set­tled.

The set­tle­ment won’t be very pop­u­lar. Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo doesn’t like the idea. Nei­ther does Wayne Vin­cent, pres­i­dent of the Austin Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion.

Pub­lic opin­ion will be di­vided. Some will com­plain about re­ward­ing the fam­ily for a son’s bad be­hav­ior. Oth­ers will com­plain about hav­ing to pay so much money for Quin­tana’s ques­tion­able judg­ment.

The com­mu­nity, how­ever, is en­ti­tled to more than its di­vided opin­ion. The com- mu­nity is en­ti­tled to know what hap­pened.

The com­mu­nity shoul­ders not only the pro­posed $750,000 set­tle­ment but is also on the hook for the an­cil­lary costs in­volved in the shoot­ing — the hours of staff time, le­gal work, con­sul­tant fees and so on.

For that, Aus­tinites are en­ti­tled to a full and un­blem­ished ac­count­ing of the in­ci­dent as well as the terms of the set­tle­ment.

The ten­dency in these cases is to seal those. But we as a com­mu­nity have too much in­vested in time and lives to close the files and for­get about the case. For­get­ting about the case would be a waste.

Maybe Dunn, the in­ter­nal af­fairs de­tec­tive whose e-mails called his ob­jec­tiv­ity in the case into se­ri­ous ques­tion, and Quin­tana can re­cover from the dam­age the case did to their law en­force­ment ca­reers.

Maybe the po­lice depart­ment will be able to weather the crit­i­cism raised in an in­de­pen­dent re­port that it­self be­came the topic of con­tro­versy and re­opened nag­ging ques­tions about its use of deadly force.

The San­ders case cost Austin a lot, and not just in money. We paid a lot for that in­for­ma­tion, and we’re en­ti­tled to it.

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