Austin's Schoolyard Bullies
The Austin Police Association (APA) is known as the most powerful lobbying force in our City, although some environmentalists might take exception to that with the amount of developer dollars funding Council campaigns. But politicians are even more afraid of being unfairly painted "anti-cop" and "anti-public safety" than they are "anti-growth" or "anti-development" by questioning any actions or demands on special interests' part.
In a letter to the Mayor and Council on July 13, 2010 (copied below), APA president Wayne Vincent admits the $750,000 proposed settlement with the Sanders family is "payoff," "hush money" and that it will "serve to bolster" the perception of this whole saga as "a cover up." He says it will give the community the "impression that the City of Austin admits this shooting was unjustified and that Officer Quintana alone was responsible for the death of this young man."
He is absolutely correct. But the trial, contrary to Vincent's assertions, would likely expose many more facts that would bolster the argument it was an unjustified shooting. Remember Chief Acevedo telling us he "couldn't wait to get on the stand to expose the truth"...what's changed? This is why the City doesn't want to go to trial.
But we still live in a society that no matter how strong the facts in a case; no matter that there were no fingerprints on the gun and no matter that several witnesses testified they had seen Sanders hands go up in the air the moment he awoke, people are still unwilling to rule against their own government or against police wrongdoing. That would mean the government is capable of wrongdoing and too many people aren't ready to face that fact. It would mean they'd have to put down the remote and pay attention once in awhile.
Ask the family of Oscar Grant about this phenomenon. No matter how many videotaped angles of the officer shooting Grant in the back while he was laying on the ground, no matter that the jury didn't buy the officer's story that he thought he had grabbed his Taser, they still only ruled for "involuntary manslaughter." (Even that's not lenient enough for police who are holding rallies in support of the officer).
The Sanders shouldn't have to go through this hell; to live over and over the second-by-second details of their son's needless death in a court of law. This settlement vindicates the family as a long-time-coming admission of wrongdoing and incompetence by the City and prevents both parties having to play that out publicly. The Sanders have endured far enough, but the City is far from being held fully accountable.
The Johnson report and the KeyPoint report tell us what we need to know about that night...something Vincent leaves out of his letter. He cites the Grand Jury, which didn't have all the facts in the case when they ruled, much less the Johnson and KeyPoint reports. He cites Internal Affairs, but like the Chief and the City Manager, cites the Dunn report as the "official report" and that is just not the case, besides failing to mention that the Dunn report was built on bias; that Dunn was fired for that bias!
Painting supporters of police accountability as "anti-police activists?" Please....Wayne, that really doesn't help your cause like you think it does. If name-calling's all you have, then you only expose your own weak hand.
And lobbying NOW for youth programs? That's rich. Officers don't want to give up being the highest paid per capita in the nation to fund youth programs, but now they want to divert restitution to the Sanders family...
But the final straw...threatening Council. This is how they work. They just usually don't make it so public in a letter that gets passed around on neighborhood listserves. There is no other way to read this letter than, "if you vote for this settlement, we won't fund your next campaign."
(If all council contenders opted into public campaign financing, maybe they wouldn't feel compeled to cater to APA's every whim!)
What message does not allowing this settlement to go through send? Since Sander's death is certainly not the only blemish on Quintana's record, that rogue cops can get get away with anything (shy of a DWI when you have a former CHiPs head as our Chief)? Accountability applies only when it's convenient to the Chief and the APA? If that's the message, then we have no accountability at all at APD.
It's time Council stand up to the bullies. It's time they correct some of the wrongdoings in the Sanders case as well, by demanding a full accounting of why the Johnson report got buried and address why we are collectively dismissing the KeyPoint report that was supposed to give the community trust in the investigation.
The bully won't stop his harassment until we fight back. Not with our fists, but with our brains and our honesty--something that would disarm him completely.
Letter to Council from Austin Police Assn President
Date: July 13, 2010
To: Lee Leffingwell, Mayor
Austin City Council - City Hall
301 W. 2nd Street
Austin, TX 78701
On behalf of the 1600 men and women who provide law enforcement services to our community, I would like to express deep concerns over the contemplated settlement between the City of Austin and the Sanders family. We were all taken by surprise in learning this surrender was being considered. Before you render a decision in this matter, allow me to address in detail what we believe will be the unintended result of such a settlement.
The moment this ill advised settlement is finalized, there will be a permanent impression that the City of Austin admits this shooting was unjustified and that Officer Quintana alone was responsible for the death of this young man. Nothing could be further from the truth, and any reasonable person knowledgeable about the facts would agree. No amount of clauses within the agreement prohibiting assumptions of guilt is going to change the fact that the community will take from this an admission that the police acted inappropriately. Of course Mr. Loewy will be prohibited from making assertions about police misconduct, but he already did that the day this potential settlement became public. His statement to KXAN on 7/10/10 "we are pleased that the City of Austin and APD finally accepts responsibility for this unjustified shooting" gives you proof positive that this will be the final judgment in the mind of the community. Our officers are accustomed to inaccurate perceptions of their actions from anti-police activists and other critics, but this time it will be at the hands of our City Council. Unless you believe this shooting was unjustified and the District Attorney, the Grand Jury, the Police Monitor and the Austin Police Department got it wrong, then I submit you have a duty to fight this in court.
This settlement completely counters any intention of city government transparency. By appropriating three quarters of a million dollars for this settlement, there will be no trial. There will be no opportunity for the general public to see all of the facts. There will be no public display of all evidence developed from this incident. A case can be made that this is nothing short of hush money. More than once in this case the City and APD have been accused by critics of a cover up. To stop the process now with a payoff is certainly not going to change that perception; in fact, it will only serve to bolster it.
With the City's history of such settlements after police incidents, we are sending a very dangerous message to those who still believe they have a right to resist and fight our Police Officers. Over the years I think we all can agree APD has changed tactics and technology in a remarkable effort to reduce injuries to suspects during police confrontations. We have been remiss however, in another critical area of police encounters. We seldom talk about the responsibility of our citizens to reduce these injuries. That responsibility is very simple. Don't fight or resist the police. If this responsibility is fulfilled, the need for Police Officers to use force in the first place will be eliminated. Money contemplated to make this trial disappear would serve a much better purpose in public education about what the role is of the police officer, and how best to interact with the police during traffic- stops or other such contacts. I submit this type of program has a real chance of saving lives. Payoff money to make a trial go away will do no such thing.
I submit you have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Austin to protect their liability, and if that means fighting this lawsuit in court, then so be it. I hope you also agree there is a responsibility to the Police Officers you employ. All of you have publicly announced your support of law enforcement. This is one of those opportunities in which you can demonstrate that support by your willingness to fight this battle in court and resist the urge to take the easy way out. There are some concerns that going to court is a gamble for the city. Our officers still believe in the system and believe we will prevail, as do legal experts I have consulted with. Of course there are no guarantees on the outcome, but in this case, money cannot be the primary concern. The reputation of your Police Officers and the city must also be considered when making this decision. Adam Loewy has had the luxury of making outrageous allegations against us for over a year via the media. Your vote to settle this on the dawn of trial will be taken as a sign you agree with him. I refuse to believe that I will be disappointed when you as a body make this decision.
Thank you so much for your time and attention to this matter.
Wayne Vincent, President
Austin Police Association