APD Shooting: Chief Responds to Community Concerns
Acevedo apologizes to family of Nate Sanders II
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo apologized to the family of Nathaniel Sanders II on Monday night, accepting blame for "the time your son spent on the scene" outside the Walnut Creek apartments, where he was killed May 11. "From the bottom of my heart, I apologize to you and your family," he said.
Sanders was shot by Officer Leonardo Quintana just after 5am, but his body remained prone on the pavement for several hours before the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office was cleared to remove it. That was the fault of the police department, Acevedo said. The Medical Examiner's Office called "early that morning," around 7:30am, he said, asking if they should respond then, but were told by police to wait while the scene was processed. "I was at the scene, and I should've done a better [job] of processing that scene," Acevedo said. "It was not meant as disrespect."
Acevedo's apology opened the community meeting June 1, held to allow residents a chance to ask questions and express concerns about the shooting. Sanders was shot twice after police said he went for a gun tucked in his waistband after Quintana woke him in the back seat of a car where he was sleeping. The car had been identified by apartment complex residents as a vehicle associated with a recent incident of random gunfire in the parking lot. (For more on this, see "Nathaniel and Li'l Nate," May 29.)
Acevedo explained to the crowd of several hundred that showed up at the Delco Center Monday evening that two concurrent investigations are ongoing – a criminal inquiry into Quintana's actions, which will be forwarded to the Travis County District Attorney's Office for presentation to a grand jury, and an administrative inquiry to determine if Quintana followed police policy and procedure during the stop that ended in Sanders' death as well as the shooting of another passenger in the car, 21-year-old Sir Lawrence Smith (Smith survived the incident and attended the Monday meeting). The entire process will take no more than 90 days, and at its conclusion, the materials collected and considered by police – including the videotape recording of the encounter captured on a patrol car dashboard camera – will be publicly released. "When we are done, the department will be transparent," Acevedo said. "Everyone [will have] a chance to see what the results are based on."
Still, the crowd had plenty of concerns – why, for example, didn't Quintana or one of two backup officers responding to the scene turn on their in-car cameras? The specific reason may still be part of the ongoing investigation, but Acevedo said the "irony is" that just one week before Sanders' death, he had discussed replacing all of the department's in-car cameras – which are VHS and were acquired secondhand from the Texas Department of Public Safety – with new, continuous-loop digital recorders, which would run without needing to be activated by officers. Acevedo said he's looking for ways to pay for the project, which he said would cost more than $8 million.
Residents also raised broader – and more difficult to answer – questions about racism and education and employment opportunities for youth in East Austin. Rudolph Williams, president of the Blackshear Neighborhood Association, energized the crowd by positing that police have been used to enforce institutional racism. The "police force has been a mechanism to keep it all in place," he said. "It is time for this to stop." Acevedo said that as a "person of color," he too had "overcome racism." The key to overcoming racism and to keeping kids safe, he said, was to make sure they stay in school and away from the street. "There are forces trying to seduce our kids to the life that is not" what we want for them – and certainly not a life "that Mr. Sanders wanted for his son," he said. "We have got to keep our kids under control."