Council rejects Sanders deal 4-3
Pact would have paid $750,000 to family of man shot by police officer last year
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.
Nathaniel Sanders II