Coun­cil split on San­ders set­tle­ment

Vote ex­pected to­day on whether to end fed­eral suit

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Tony Plo­het­ski AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF

On the day be­fore their sched­uled vote, Austin City Coun­cil mem­bers re­mained di­vided Wed­nes­day on whether to sup­port a con­tro­ver­sial $750,000 set­tle­ment with the fam­ily of a man fa­tally shot by a po­lice of­fi­cer.

At least three coun­cil mem­bers — Randi Shade, Laura Mor­ri­son and Chris Ri­ley — ap­peared per­suad­able on a day that brought more con­ver­sa­tion about end­ing a fed­eral law­suit brought by the fam­ily of Nathaniel San­ders II.

Coun­cil mem­bers cir­cu­lated an e-mail from a re­tired as­sis­tant city at­tor­ney who had rep­re­sented the city in the suit, urg­ing them to re­ject the pro­posal.

“I clearly be­lieve the of­fi­cer will win, and I have tried a ton of these kind of cases,” wrote for­mer city lawyer Fred Hawkins, who left in De­cem­ber. He added that should they de­cide to set­tle, “the amount is too high.”

For­mer se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer Leonardo Quin­tana is the lone de­fen­dant in the suit. The city was dropped from the suit last month but is still

Con­tin­ued from A1 re­spon­si­ble for any dam­ages against Quin­tana be­cause he was act­ing in the scope of his job, of­fi­cials have said. Quin­tana fa­tally shot San­ders in May 2009 while in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether a car San­ders was in was linked to a se­ries of crimes. Of­fi­cials have said Quin­tana fired af­ter strug­gling for a gun with San­ders.

Also Wed­nes­day, some coun­cil mem­bers hinted that they might seek to rene­go­ti­ate with San­ders’ fam­ily to de­crease the set­tle­ment amount. It was un­clear how much trac­tion that idea would gain.

Coun­cilMem­berBil­lSpel­man, who had re­mained un­de­cided, said he would sup­port the set­tle­ment. Coun­cil Mem­ber Sh­eryl Cole con­firmed that she also would vote in fa­vor of it.

“We prob­a­bly would win the case if we went to trial, but we

FRED HAWKINS won’t cer­tainly win the case,” Spel­man said.

Cole said, “Jury tri­als do not re­sult in com­mu­nity rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.”

Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well has said he is “pretty sure” he will not sup­port the set­tle­ment. Coun­cil Mem­ber Mike Martinez has said that he wants the case to go to trial.

Pub­lic sen­ti­ment ap­peared to be mostly against the set- tle­ment based on e-mails and phone calls city lead­ers said they had re­ceived. Sev­eral re­ported get­ting about 100 e-mails, most of which were from res­i­dents want­ing them to re­ject the pro­posal.

Po­lice union of­fi­cials have op­posed the set­tle­ment, while some African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity lead­ers have said it would al­low the city to heal.

Spel­man said his sup­port for set­tling the case is rooted, in part, in a be­lief that a fed­eral trial won’t nec­es­sar­ily make pub­lic all ev­i­dence in the case. He said that based on con­ver­sa­tions with city lawyers, most ev­i­dence would be made pub­lic — ex­cept de­po­si­tions by Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo and City Man­ager Marc Ott, which re­main un­der a fed­eral seal.

Spel­man said he doesn’t fully un­der­stand why the doc­u­ments are sealed or whether the city would seek to have U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks make them pub­lic.

Spel­man said a cou­ple of coun­cil mem­bers this week sug­gested try­ing to get the San­ders fam­ily to lower the set­tle­ment amount, but Spel­man de­clined to name them.

“I would be in­ter­ested in any progress we can make on that,” Ri­ley said.

Leff­in­g­well said he would like to keep that op­tion open.

Mor­ri­son and Shade said Wed­nes­day that they wanted to com­plete con­ver­sa­tions with com­mu­nity lead­ers and meet with city lawyers in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion to­day be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion.

“There are a lot of facets you have to look at, from the le­gal as­pect, the busi­ness as­pect and the com­mu­nity as­pect,” Mor­ri­son said.

In his e-mail to Martinez, Hawkins, who han­dled sev­eral in-cus­tody death cases for the city since the mid-1990s, said he thinks a set­tle­ment could prompt a law­suit by Sir Lawrence Smith, who also was shot and wounded by Quin­tana.

“I sus­pect he will want the same or more money than San­ders,” Hawkins wrote.

In an in­ter­view, Hawkins said, “I think they would win the case, and I think it is one they should try. But I’m just giv­ing an opin­ion.”

Leonardo Quin­tana fa­tally shot Nathaniel San­ders II.

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