AUSTIN: City attorneys had argued for months that report could not be publicly released

The Texas Civil Rights Project

Sanders shooting report made public

Statesman.Com Austin American-Statesman

City attorneys had argued for months
that report could not be publicly released

By Tony Plohetski
AMERICAN-STATEMAN STAFF

After claiming for nearly eight months that the information is confidential, Austin city officials Thursday night made public the findings of an independent investigation into the fatal police shooting of Nathaniel Sanders II.

Officials posted the full report by KeyPoint Government Solutions on the city’s website shortly before 8 p.m., including the company’s conclusions that Senior Police Officer Leonardo Quintana used poor tactics and excessive deadly force during the May 11, 2009, shooting in an East Austin apartment parking lot.

The report also said that Quintana’s actions were so reckless that they may have been criminal.

The disclosure comes after months of public demands that the city release the findings, as well as a lawsuit by a civil rights group [the Texas Civil Rights Project] that city attorneys had fought vigorously. It was unclear Thursday night whether the suit would be withdrawn.

The report’s release also followed an American-Statesman report Thursday that highlighted differences in how the city had handled the results of a similar independent investigation of a fatal police shooting in 2002 — an inquiry that supported the police officer and was publicly released. Several city and police union officials Thursday said the newspaper’s report prompted more conversations that led to their consensus that the information should be released.

The decision to make the findings public contradicted previous statements by city attorneys, who over many months have said that the KeyPoint results must be kept secret in order to comply with state law, a federal protective order in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Sanders’ family and a contract between the police union and city.

They also pointed to the fact that the Texas attorney general’s office sided with them. City lawyers sent the attorney general’s office copies of the KeyPoint report, parts of state law and the contract for their opinion.

City Council members expressed deep frustration Thursday night that the results were not made public earlier. They had been given the same legal reasoning for why they could not review the full report.

“I am really glad this came out, but I have to ask why we could not have done this before,” Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. “I think we have to examine our whole policy.”

Council Member Chris Riley said that he was “puzzled” by the day’s development and that he planned to seek answers from City Manager Marc Ott, city lawyers and police officials.

“We need to get to the bottom of this to make sure we are not in this situation again,” Riley said.

City Council Member Mike Martinez said he has “serious issues” with how the city handled the information, adding, “There is no doubt. … We need to improve on our transparency.”

Ott, who staffers said was dealing with a family emergency, could not be reached Thursday night. City Attorney David Smith, whose staff is responsible for interpretations of state laws and a contract between the city and police union, did not return multiple messages left on his phone and with city employees.

This week, Smith also said he was not prepared to explain why, in 2004, the city had released the results of an independent investigation into the fatal police shooting of a mentally ill woman, but refused to release the KeyPoint report on the Sanders shooting.

In the first instance, the city altered a contract with the police union to allow the release of the results, which found that Officer John Coffey did not use excessive force when he shot and killed Sophia King in 2002.

According to the modified contract provision, which remains in place, the city is permitted to make “public release of a final report by an investigator who conducts an independent investigation authorized by the chief of police or city manager concerning officer conduct.”

The contract makes exceptions for “evidentiary facts, or other substantive investigative information” unless it is “already public as a matter of fact by lawful or authorized means or the officer’s own release.”

Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald said Ott directed him Thursday morning to meet with police union officials to discuss the contract provision.

By midafternoon, city and police union lawyers had agreed on a document that further explained the intent of their agreement.

McDonald said that he thinks the memo was necessary to allow Thursday’s release, but he could not explain why discussions between the city and union had not occurred sooner.

A Tale of Two Reports:

The KeyPoint Report on the shooting ot Nathaniel Sanders II

Redacted version released to TCRP by the City of Austin on March 1, 2010 (pdf 2.5mb)

———-

Unredacted version released to the public by the City of Austin on May 13, 2010 (pdf 1.2mb)

———-

TCRP compares the original KeyPoint report with the redacted version, highlighting portions that were redacted by the City of Austin (pdf 1.4mb)

City of Austin Releases Police Shooting Report
in wake of TCRP Lawsuit

Report Finds Officer Used Excessive Force
in Fatal Shooting

AUSTIN, TX — Under pressure from the Texas Civil Rights Project, the City of Austin finally released an independent report on a fatal police shooting, after a hearing in a lawsuit brought by TCRP. TCRP requested the City disclose the report under the Texas Public Information Act, but the City chose to keep the report secret. The City acted before the judge was to rule in TCRP’s lawsuit.

On May 11, 2009, Austin Police Officer Leonardo Quintana shot and killed Nathaniel Sanders II, and seriously injured Sir Lawrence Smith. Following the shooting, the City hired KeyPoint Government Solutions, a respected New York-based company, to investigate the shooting. The City taxpayers paid KeyPoint $50,000.

The KeyPoint report in its complete, unredacted format is available at the TCRP website along with the redacted version. TCRP has also prepared a file (in pdf format) that highlights which portions of the complete report were redacted when the City first released the document to TCRP on March 1, 2010.

Among other findings, the report concludes:

  • The officers were reckless and acted unreasonably;
  • Officer Quintana violated APD policy, unnecessarily used deadly force, and failed to use sound police tactics;
  • Had the officers acted properly, Mr. Sanders might still be alive.

The report also reveals for the first time:

  • A witness complained to APD investigators that Quintana was biased against African Americans, and the City’s investigators did not follow up on this allegation;
  • Before Mr. Sanders’ death, citizens had made fourteen other complaints against Quintana, including nine complaints about excessive force, and one complaint Quintana used a taser on someone who was handcuffed.

“It’s obvious why the City didn’t want this report to get out,” said Scott Medlock, TCRP staff attorney. “The report is damning, but its release is a major victory for open government. The City tried every trick in the book to keep this report from the public. It’s pathetic it took a lawsuit to get them to change their tune.”

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