Sanders settlement approved by council

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Austin City Council on Thursday approved a $750,000 settlement for the family of Nathaniel Sanders, the teenager who was killed by an Austin police officer in 2009. The council also voted to settle with the passenger in Sanders’ car who was wounded in the shooting.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council member Mike Martinez were the only members to vote against the Sanders deal. The $175,000 settlement with Sir Lawrence Smith was settled by a 6-0 vote.

The settlements were expected, and the recent election of Kathie Tovo ensured that the deal had the support needed to pass.

“I believe that settling the case outside of court instead of letting it go to trial is really in the best interest of the city,” Tovo said on Wednesday.

Council Member Sheryl Cole led the effort to bring the vote back to council. She says this vote will finally help heal a community divided by the shooting and last years no vote.

“It has stretched the fabric of our community. And it was emotional to finally see it come to closure and we finally put it behind us,” Cole said after the vote on Thursday. The settlement comes a little more than two years after 18-year-old Sanders was shot and killed by Senior Officer Leonardo Quintana.

In the early morning hours of May 11, 2009, Quintana spotted a car police believed to be involved in a string of robberies.

When Quintana approached the car, Sanders, who was asleep, woke up and the two struggled over a gun hidden in Sanders’ waistband.

Quintana fired his gun, killing Sanders and injuring another person in the car, Sir Lawrence Smith.

Since then, Quintana has been fired by Austin’s police chief after being arrested for domestic violence.

Council member Cole, Laura Morrison and Tovo sponsored the resolution to settle the case. Council member Bill Spelman and Chris Riley also voted to approve the settlement. “When you make a settlement, you are not admitting guilt. You are not making an indictment against the officers, you are simply saying, I don’t know and I don’t want to risk it,” said Cole. 
  Had the council not settled the case it would have gone to a federal courtroom in November. Cole and other council members were worried that fighting the case in court could end up costing the city more than settlement.

On Tuesday Spelman told a radio station that he believes the city should settle the case because the officer violated Austin Police Department policy.

In a letter sent to Spelman, Sgt. Wayne Vincent, president of the Austin Police Association, strongly criticized Spelman for that interview.

“Your careless statements are an example of what makes a police officer’s job so difficult,” Vincent said in the letter sent to Spelman on Wednesday.

Last year Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Council members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley all voted against the settlement.

“The case is basically one where the officer involved was found not to have violated any policy other than failing to turn his camera on,” said Leffingwell. Leffingwell and Vincent both believe the settlement will send the wrong message to Austin Police Officers.

“I think that if you don’t support your officers when they are right they are not going to be able to do their job the way they need to do it to protect and serve the people of Austin,” Leffingwell said.

However Cole and Tovo said the settlement does not send that message to Austin Police Officers. 

“They should not take this as an admission of guilt or indictment or us not standing behind them 100 percent,” Cole said. 
  The Sanders family was not in the council chambers today. Their lawyer, Adam Loewy said in a statement, “We are pleased that this has been resolved.”