Coun­cil, lawyers had dis­cussed suit deal

As some mem­bers balk at $750,000 pro­posal in San­ders case, one says talks in­cluded cost range

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

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.

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