Council split on Sanders settlement
Vote expected today on whether to end federal suit
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.