Council, lawyers had discussed suit deal
As some members balk at $750,000 proposal in Sanders case, one says talks included cost range
Austin City Council members, some of whom have expressed hesitancy to approve a settlement with the family of a man killed by a police officer, had earlier talked with city lawyers about negotiating an agreement of up to $750,000.
About a month ago, city leaders met with attorneys in a private session, during which they discussed a range of $300,000 to $750,000 to settle a federal lawsuit with the family of Nathaniel Sanders II, Council Member Mike Martinez said Tuesday.
“They came to us and said, ‘We are discussing a potential settlement agreement; it is looking like it could be as high as $750,000, and are you OK with this?’ ” Martinez said. “That doesn’t mean we necessarily approve or disapprove.
“We were asked, ‘Should we continue the discussion on a potential settlement agreement?’ and of course we agreed,” he said.
Martinez has said he will not support the proposed $750,000 settlement.
Other council members Tuesday similarly recalled the conversations with city lawyers, which happened before the city was dropped from the suit and the officer became the lone defendant.
The proposed settlement — made public July 8 — has divided some in the community. The council is expected to vote on it July 29.
Police union officials have asked city leaders to reject the agreement, saying it would indicate a belief that then-senior officer Leonardo Quintana erred by fatally shooting Sanders.
Others, including representatives of the Austin chapter of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, have said Sanders’ rel- atives should be compensated for their loss.
Aides for Mayor Lee Leffingwell said Tuesday that they had received nearly 50 e-mails from residents, most of whom do not support the settlement.
This week, Leffingwell and Council Members Randi Shade and Chris Riley said they have reservations about the tentative agreement but would await more information before deciding how they will vote.
Their concerns include the cost of the settlement versus going to trial and how much of the money an attorney representing Sanders’ family would receive.
Quintana fatally shot Sanders on May 11, 2009, in an apartment complex parking lot after they struggled for a gun Sanders had at his waist, 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 Police Department later determined that Quintana had used tactics that were so reckless that they might have been criminal.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo disagreed but later fired Quintana after a drunken driving arrest in January.
According to state open meetings laws, City Council members can meet in executive session to discuss personnel and legal issues, among others. However, they are not permitted to take formal action, including polling or voting.
On Tuesday, Council Member Bill Spelman said he doesn’t remember talking about a specific dollar amount with city lawyers in executive session.
“I think the sense in the room was this was a good idea — to mediate and see what they could come up with,” Spelman said.
“I don’t remember any concern about mediating, in theory, and I don’t remember if concerns were raised about the $750,000 or not.”
Spelman said he is still undecided about how he will vote.
“Professional staff has always been very clear to me that this entire litigation had a potential liability exposure of up to $750,000,” said Council Member Sheryl Cole, who declined to comment further.
Leffingwell said, “It has been my understanding that we were talking about a number that would be remedy-neutral; in other words, the cost of litigation versus the cost of settling being somewhere in the same ballpark.
“At this point, I want to hear more about that subject, but I still have the same major concerns,” he said.