|Full report of Sanders shooting states ‘actions were reckless’
by Jordan Smith
Outside investigators asked by the city to review the Austin Police Department Internal Affairs investigation into last year’s police shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders II by Officer Leonardo Quintana concluded that Quintana acted “recklessly to the point that he needlessly endangered himself, his fellow officers, the suspects and the onlookers.”
That was the conclusion an un-redacted version of that report acquired for review by the Chronicle from an anonymous source.
The report has been publicly available only in an heavily redacted form, which omits most of the major conclusions reached by independent investigators with KeyPoint Government Solutions, the consultant firm hired by the city to do an independent review of the IA investigation at the request of the city’s Citizen Review Panel.
Despite numerous open records requests (including one from the Chronicle), the city has declined to release the full version of the report, claiming that it is exempt from disclosure because it was commissioned as part of the internal inquiry. A lawsuit filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project seeking release of the full report is pending.
|Quintana shot and killed Sanders in the parking lot of the Walnut Creek Apartment complex on Springdale Road in East Austin on May 11, 2009; Sanders was asleep in the backseat of a champagne-colored Mercedes-Benz station wagon when Quintana approached him. Quintana said that when Sanders awoke he grabbed a gun tucked into his waistband. Quintana said he feared for his life and shot Sanders twice as he retreated from the car.
Ultimately, a Travis County grand jury declined to indict Quintana on any criminal charges in connection with Sanders’ death and APD Chief Art Acevedo sustained just one of the five administrative charges leveled at Quintana, handing the officer 15 days off for failing to activate his in-car video recorder.
But according to the un-redacted KeyPoint report, the independent investigators concluded that Quintana should have been disciplined for multiple infractions – including failing to identify himself as a police officer, failing to use proper police tactics during the incident, and for unnecessarily using deadly force.
“We believe the actions taken by Officer Quintana were well beyond merely careless or negligent. We believe his actions, based on his knowledge of the circumstances [i.e., surrounding the incident], his training – particularly with his attendance in the SWAT course and Patrol Tactical course, his experience as a veteran police officer and his status as a field training officer were reckless to the point that he needlessly endangered himself, his fellow officers, the suspects and the onlookers,” reads the report.
“We characterize Officer Quintana’s tactics as reckless mindful of the legal import of the term. Reckless conduct can be criminal if it involves taking actions knowing that they are likely to yield a particular result but the actor does so despite the risk,” the report continues.
“[I]t is not within the scope of our review to render opinions regarding possible criminal conduct. We place our findings against [the legal] backdrop … to emphasize the gravity of this sustained allegation against Officer Quintana. It is not a long stretch between finding that Officer Quintana disregarded standardized Department training and tactics in confronting potentially armed suspects resulting in his killing one and wounding the other, and finding that he disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable risk that he would lose control of the volatile situation resulting in having to use deadly force.”
As we reported last week, the Internal Affairs detectives investigating Quintana’s actions in the Sanders shooting determined that the allegation of the failure to activate his camera should be sustained, but he should be cleared on charges related to his failure to identify himself, on his choice of tactics (they found he had not acted in a way incompatible with his training), and for his use of deadly force against Sanders, who died, as well as against another passenger of the car (Sir Smith, who was shot and wounded but survived).
The detectives’ supervisor, Cmdr. Charles Johnson, disagreed with their findings on several counts; Johnson determined that Quintana should be disciplined for failing to identify himself and for his failure to use sound tactics. But Johnson concluded that ultimately, Quintana’s use of deadly force was justifiable.
“Quintana’s choice of tactics and his approach to Sanders contributed directly to the chain of events that followed, which ultimately led to Quintana using deadly force against Sanders. If different tactics had been employed, the necessity to use deadly force may have been avoided entirely,” Johnson wrote in his August 2009 summary report on the IA investigation. “However, [the use of deadly force allegation] is treated separately, outside the larger situational context,” he continued. “Officer Quintana believed that lethal force was reasonably necessary to defend his own life and the life of his fellow officers.”
But the KeyPoint investigators – led by a former prosecutor and a former cop – felt that Johnson’s conclusions regarding the use of deadly force were wrong. “[W]e believe that the Internal Affairs analysis is flawed by examining this allegation separate from the events that led up to Officer Quintana’s use of deadly force,” they wrote.
“Indeed, the allegation itself contemplates the determination of the failure to follow training and tactics and whether Officer Quintana’s actions ‘employ[ed] sound judgment.’As noted above, we believe that Officer Quintana’s tactics were reckless and that if Officer Quintana employed even the most basic officer safety tactics in this situation as he had been trained, the necessity to use deadly force may very well have been avoided.”
In conclusion, the KeyPoint investigators found that it was Quintana’s actions that caused the interaction with Sanders to go badly:
“Ultimately, it is our finding that significant tactical errors that rose to the level of recklessness were made by the involved officers, and that but for this recklessness the use of deadly physical force might very well have been avoided. While we have also found that the use of deadly physical force by Officer Quintana was not justified, as any belief that there was imminent danger to himself or others was not objectively reasonable, it was ultimately the reckless tactics employed by Officer Quintana in the first place that directly led to his use of deadly force and ultimately the taking of the life of one individual and seriously wounding of another.”
|Acevedo deflects accusations of cover-up in fatal shooting investigation
By Kate Alexander and Tony Plohetski
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo on Saturday rejected accusations that the city covered up critical findings from an independent report on a fatal shooting by an Austin police officer.
The full report by KeyPoint Government Solutions, commissioned by the City of Austin to shed light on the 2009 shooting of Nathaniel Sanders II, concluded that police officer Leonardo Quintana used excessive deadly force and was reckless in his tactics.
Those conclusions — which contradicted Acevedo’s own ruling — were redacted from the version of the report made public last fall. An unredacted copy was leaked to the American-Statesman last week by a man who did not identify himself.
Jim Harrington , director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said Saturday that withholding that information in such a heated case smacked of a cover-up.
“This really undercuts everything the city has done over the past two, three years to rebuild confidence in the Police Department,” Harrington said. “If you can’t trust them on this, what can you trust them on?”
At a hastily called news conference, Acevedo said a federal court and state law prohibit him from releasing the complete information.
“Above all else, we have to obey the law,” Acevedo said. “We can’t break the law simply because it is a feel-good thing.”
Acevedo described the suggestion that he was hiding the report’s conclusions as “offensive, inflammatory \u2026 and irresponsible.”
He reiterated his own conclusion that Quintana’s actions were “objectively reasonable and within Austin Police Department policy.”
The police monitor and its citizens review panel saw the full report and reached the same conclusion as Acevedo, who has said the community will agree when all the evidence is released, as the federal case unfolds.
When asked if the city manager had read an unredacted report, Acevedo responded that City Manager Marc Ott had been told about its contents but had only received a redacted version.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell and the City Council, however, were not privy to the full details of the report because state law kept them from getting access to the information, Leffingwell said.
“Like everyone, I’m troubled by the findings of the report and intend to review the matter fully with the city manager and police chief,” he said.
Nelson Linder, president of the Austin branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Acevedo erred in not firing Quintana last year. He noted the strong language used by authors of the KeyPoint report to describe Quintana’s actions.
“I just thought they were outraged by what they saw,” Linder said. “I think they were offended by it personally. I think they called it the way they saw it.”
Linder said he is thankful that the city sought the independent review last year.
Officials have said that Quintana shot Sanders — who had been asleep in the back of a Mercedes-Benz station wagon in the parking lot of an East Austin apartment complex — when the two struggled for a gun that Sanders had at his waist.
The shooting sparked unrest, and a crowd later gathered at the scene. Some spectators shattered patrol car windows and hurled bottles and other objects at officers.
On Thursday, Acevedo fired Quintana over Quintana’s drunken-driving arrest in Williamson County in January. The arrest came the morning after Quintana had been questioned for more than six hours as part of a federal lawsuit filed by Sanders’ family.
Quintana plans to appeal the firing.