The unsettling Sanders shooting
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.