Sanders suit deal troubles council
settlement in fatal shooting case is growing more sensitive
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said he has “real concerns” about a proposed $750,000 settlement with the family of a man killed by an Austin police officer in May 2009.
Leffingwell, one of several city leaders who publicly expressed reservations about the proposal Monday night, added, “Frankly, I am lean- ing against it right now.”
The seven-member City Council is set to vote on the settlement later this month.
Nathaniel Sanders II was shot by then-senior police officer Leonardo Quintana during what officials have described as a struggle for a weapon Sanders had at his waist.
The Sanders family’s federal lawsuit, filed within days of the shooting, alleges civil rights violations. Quintana was fired in May of this year after he was arrested on a drunken driving charge.
Leffingwell said he was troubled by comments the Sanders family’s attorney made to the media when the proposed settlement was made public July 8. In a statement, lawyer Adam Loewy said he was pleased that officials were taking responsibility for “this unjustified shooting.”
“I think that is basically a slur against the city and Police Department,” Leffingwell said.
Council Member Mike Martinez said he would not support the settlement.
“The proposed settlement leaves too many questions unanswered,” Martinez said in a written statement. “It serves to close off examination rather than promoting understanding. The question is to get all of the facts in a proper forum and that is what a federal civil trial will do.”
Council Member Randi Shade said she questions how much of the money from the settlement Loewy would receive and the nature of conversations between Loewy and city lawyers during negotiations. Loewy declined to comment Monday night. The comments from council members come more than a week before they are expected to vote at their July 29 meeting. The matter grows more politically sensitive by the day for city officials.
Austin police union officials immediately rejected the proposal and have since sent a strongly worded letter to Leffingwell and council members urging them to vote against it.
“The moment this ill advised settlement is finalized, there will be a permanent impression that the City of Austin admits this shooting was unjustified and that Officer Quintana alone was responsible for the death of this young man,” Sgt. Wayne Vincent, the union president, wrote. “No amount of clauses within the agreement prohibiting assumptions of guilt is going to change the fact that the community will take from this an admission that the police acted inappropriately.”
The Rev. Sterling Lands, senior pastor of Greater Calvary Bible Church and a former member of a citizens panel for the police monitor’s office, sent a separate letter to Leffingwell on Monday.
Lands wrote that he has no issue with the settlement “other than it appears to be too small.”
“The killing of Mr. Sanders was a criminal act and should be treated no different than any other murder or criminal act,” Lands wrote. “The City of Austin must admit that this shooting was unjustified and that APD Officer Quintana was responsible for the death of this young man without cause.”
Quintana fatally shot Sanders on May 11, 2009, in an apartment complex parking lot, officials said. Quintana was suspended for 15 days for not activating his patrol car camera but was not disciplined for his tactics or use of deadly force.
But a consultant hired by the city determined that Quintana had used tactics that were so reckless they may have been criminal.
Police Chief Art Acevedo disagreed. He later fired Quintana after his DWI arrest.
The civil trial was set to begin Monday, but it was taken off U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ docket because of the tentative settlement. It was unclear when a trial would begin if council members reject the settlement.
Other council members Monday night said they were not sure how they will vote. Council Member Chris Riley said: “I will tell you I am concerned about it. Beyond that, I am really reluctant to say much more.”
Council Member Sheryl Cole said she is talking with community members before making a decision. Council Member Bill Spelman said he has an appointment this week with the city’s legal staff to discuss the proposal and declined to comment further until after that meeting.
Council Member Laura Morrison could not be reached Monday night.
Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, said he is not surprised by the hesitancy of some council members.
“I think the community is going to mobilize in every way possible to make sure this is acted upon and that the City Council ensure that this family is taken care of,” he said. “How could they not address this family’s pain?”
Lee Leffingwell Mayor ‘leaning against’ settlement.