San­ders suit deal trou­bles coun­cil

set­tle­ment in fa­tal shoot­ing case is grow­ing more sen­si­tive

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Plo­het­ski

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.

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