Coun­cil re­jects San­ders deal 4-3

Pact would have paid $750,000 to fam­ily of man shot by po­lice of­fi­cer last year

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

Af­ter a day of drama and sus­pense, Austin City Coun­cil mem­bers Thurs­day night nar­rowly re­jected a $750,000 set­tle­ment with the fam­ily of a man fa­tally shot by a po­lice of­fi­cer last year.

Coun­cil mem­bers voted 43 against the mea­sure that would have con­cluded a fed­eral law­suit with the fam­ily of Nathaniel San­ders II.

Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well re­jected the pro­posal and was backed by Coun­cil Mem­bers Mike Martinez, Randi Shade and Chris Ri­ley. Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well sides with ma­jor­ity against set­tle­ment.

The set­tle­ment was sup­ported by Coun­cil Mem­bers Sh­eryl Cole, Bill Spel­man and Laura Mor­ri­son.

The coun­cil also re­jected by a 5-2 vote a last-minute at- tempt by Ri­ley and Shade to set­tle with the San­ders fam­ily for $500,000 — a fig­ure they deemed more neu­tral.

Adam Loewy, the San­ders fam­ily at­tor­ney, de­clined to com­ment late Thurs­day, but he said on his Face­book page that he “is ex­cited to be part of the Trial of the Cen­tury in Austin, Texas.”

Be­fore the fi­nal de­ci­sion, the coun­cil mem­bers is­sued lengthy com­ments about their rea­son­ing, and some ap­peared con­flicted even in the fi­nal mo­ments be­fore the vote.

“Our con­sid­er­a­tion of this set­tle­ment has been a painful process,” Ri­ley said. “There are many very strong com­pet­ing val­ues at stake here. For some time now, what many of us have wanted above all was rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and a col­lec­tive ef­fort to move for­ward

as a com­mu­nity in a pos­i­tive way.”

The de­ci­sion prompted an an­gry re­sponse by some mem­bers of Austin’s African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, who had warned that the de­ci­sion would pose a se­ri­ous set­back for mi­nor­ity re­la­tions.

At a cou­ple of points dur­ing the coun­cil’s dis­cus­sion, res­i­dents at­tend­ing the meet­ing shouted out, and Leff­in­g­well threat­ened to eject any­one re­spon­si­ble for fur­ther out­bursts.

“This was a chance for them to make sure the city was fair, and they blew that chance on ev­ery level,” said Nel­son Lin­der, pres­i­dent of the Austin chap­ter of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple.

He named Leff­in­g­well and Martinez specif­i­cally as “an em­bar­rass­ment to the city.”

Then-se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer Leonardo Quin­tana fa­tally shot San­ders on May 11, 2009, in the park­ing lot of an East Austin apart­ment com­plex. He was in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether a Mercedes-Benz sta­tion wagon in which San­ders was sleep­ing was linked to a se­ries of crimes in the area.

Of­fi­cials have said that Quin­tana fired at San­ders when they strug­gled for a weapon.

Quin­tana was sus­pended for 15 days for not ac­ti­vat­ing his pa­trol car cam­era, but Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo said that he did not use ex­ces­sive force or vi­o­late de­part­men­tal poli­cies

‘This was a chance for them to make sure the city was fair, and they blew that chance on ev­ery level.’ Pres­i­dent of the Austin chap­ter of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple


re­quir­ing of­fi­cers to use sound tac­tics.

An out­side con­sul­tant who re­viewed the depart­ment’s in­ter­nal re­view dis­agreed, but po­lice of­fi­cials have since dis­puted some of the con­sul­tant’s key find­ings.

Quin­tana was fired af­ter a drunken driv­ing ar­rest this year.

The city was ini­tially a de­fen­dant in the law­suit but was dropped last month. How­ever, city lawyers have said the city is still re­spon­si­ble for any dam­ages against Quin­tana be­cause he was act­ing in the scope of his job.

It was un­clear Thurs­day night when a fed­eral trial would be­gin. Spel­man said this week that city lawyers ad­vised him that it prob­a­bly would not oc­cur un­til at least next year.

A trial was set to be­gin this month, but U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks struck it from his docket af­ter both sides an­nounced that they had reached a ten­ta­tive set­tle­ment.

Ex­perts and those fa­mil­iar with the case said it prob­a­bly will hinge on whether Quin­tana used ex­ces­sive deadly force and vi­o­lated San­ders’ civil rights. The trial prob­a­bly would fo­cus al­most en­tirely on the fi­nal mo­ments of the en­counter, they said.

Pos­si­ble ev­i­dence such as the out­side con­sul­tant’s re­port, Quin­tana’s his­tory with the depart­ment and San­ders’ crim­i­nal record would be limited, Sparks has al­ready ruled.

The vote capped a day of sus­pense at City Hall. Through­out the af­ter­noon, as the group met for four hours in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion, Ri­ley was re­port­edly the panel’s vi­tal swing vote and re­mained un­de­cided late into the day.

At 5:30 p.m., while the group had re­cessed, Spel­man was seen walk­ing to­ward Ri­ley’s of­fice. He said he was try­ing to per­suade Ri­ley to sup­port the pro­posal.

The de­ci­sion also fol­lowed im­pas­sioned pleas by some African Amer­i­can lead­ers to sup­port the set­tle­ment.

The Rev. Joe Parker, pas­tor of David Chapel Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church, is­sued an emo­tional ap­peal.

“It pains me to be here to­day with the recog­ni­tion that some of you are con­tem­plat­ing not ap­prov­ing this set­tle­ment,” he said. “I be­lieve this is a mat­ter at its core of the city’s moral cen­ter. I think it speaks to your in­tegrity.”

Po­lice union pres­i­dent Sgt. Wayne Vin­cent, who also ad­dressed the coun­cil be­fore the vote, said, “At a time when the com­mu­nity is strug­gling with what hap­pened, this is an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to have a jury of our peers see all of the ev­i­dence in this case and have the case ar­gued by pro­fes­sion­als.”

Dur­ing their com­ments, coun­cil mem­bers dif­fered on whether a trial would cre­ate trans­parency in the case. Martinez and oth­ers ar­gued that it would, but Mor­ri­son pointed out that attorneys of­ten fight to sup­press cer­tain facts in such tri­als.

Spel­man noted that if the case were set­tled, in­for­ma­tion would be avail­able through Texas open records laws.

They also talked about whether the $750,000 deal would send the mes­sage that they thought Quin­tana wrong­fully shot San­ders.

In dis­cussing their sup­port for set­tling for $500,000, Shade and Ri­ley said they were seek­ing a more neu­tral fig­ure. They said they hoped the amount would be enough to avoid a trial, but, it was sub­stan­tially lower than what the city has paid in other po­lice shoot­ing deaths in which of­fi­cers were found to have erred. Those set­tle­ments have reached $1 mil­lion. When that low fig­ure was not ap­proved, they said they could not sup­port set­tling.

But in the end, Shade said, “There is ab­so­lutely no amount of money that can bring Mr. and Mrs. San­ders the peace they de­serve.”

Above left: Be­fore the vote Thurs­day night, Coun­cil Mem­ber Mike Martinez says why he can­not sup­port the set­tle­ment. The coun­cil talked about whether the $750,000 deal would send the mes­sage that they thought po­lice of­fi­cer Leonardo Quin­tana wrong­fully shot Nathaniel San­ders II. At right: Au­di­ence mem­ber Nancy Pow­ell shows her sup­port for the po­lice depart­ment with her signs.

Ralph Bar­rera pho­tos

Leonardo Quin­tana

Nathaniel San­ders II

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