City of Austin covers costs for Quintana shooting case

Aziza Musa

Although Austin Police Department officials fired former Officer Leonardo Quintana in late October, the city is still responsible for finding him legal representation.

City Council members unanimously passed a legal contract Thursday to allocate funds for outside counsel in the latest lawsuit against Quintana. The city is obligated to represent Quintana because he was acting as an Austin police officer at the time of the officer-involved shootings, said city spokeswoman Samantha Park.

“Because the city had taken disciplinary actions against him, the most responsible course of action is to bring in outside legal counsel,” Park said.

Quintana became the center of controversy after fatally shooting 18-year-old Nathaniel Sanders II in May 2009 after failing to activate his dashboard camera. Quintana was patrolling East Austin when he spotted a car reportedly seen at several crime scenes in the area. Sanders and Sir Lawrence Smith were sleeping in the car as a driver took them to an apartment complex. The driver got out of the car, and Quintana detained him, court records show.

The officer tried to physically awaken the passengers and scared them, causing Sanders to pull out his gun, according to court documents. Upon seeing the gun, Quintana backed away and fired into the car’s windows, shooting Smith in the chest and killing Sanders.

Both families have since filed separate lawsuits against Quintana. Smith, 22, filed a lawsuit on Oct. 19 on the grounds that the former officer used excessive force and violated his constitutional rights. Under the approved legal services contract, the city hired Austin-based attorney Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez, who is currently representing Quintana in the Sanders’ suit.

The city will use no more than $190,000 from its Liability Reserve Fund to pay for the fees or expenses incurred from Smith’s lawsuit, including hiring experts, officials said.

“Since I have anticipated the filing of the lawsuit for about a year and a half, I am actually looking forward to answering the allegations made in the lawsuit,” Icenhauer-Ramirez said. “I believe Leonardo Quintana’s defense will ultimately be successful. I’m familiar with the facts of the case, and I think the facts are on our side.”

Icenhauer-Ramirez said the Sanders case is set for November 2011 and that he will now begin to gather witnesses, investigate the case and put together exhibits in preparation for the Smith trial.