Quintana Reinstated ... and Reterminated
Arbitrator rules in favor of fired Officer Leonardo Quintana ... then Quintana gets fired again
Last week, Leonardo Quintana, the Austin Police Department officer who last May shot and killed Nathaniel Sanders II in an East Austin apartment complex parking lot, was given his job back, effective immediately, by an independent arbitrator. It didn't last long. On Wednesday, Chief Art Acevedo held a new disciplinary hearing with Quintana to discuss the outcome of yet another Internal Affairs investigation of the officer (concerning an alleged domestic violence incident last October) and, late Wednesday afternoon, announced that he has once again fired Quintana. Quintana's union attorney, Tom Stribling, said his client will continue to fight to keep his job.
The allegation involves Quintana's former fiancée, fellow Officer Lori Noriega, with whom Quintana has had a rocky relationship. In 2006, he was disciplined for a confrontation with her; although he was originally given a 15-day suspension for that incident – he had gone to a house they shared to retrieve some personal property and allegedly pushed her to get into the front door – it was later downgraded to a written reprimand. Among the evidence reviewed in that situation were polygraph exam results for both Quintana and Noriega, which suggested she had not been truthful about what happened, Stribling said.
According to the Leander Police report of the incident, officers responded to Noriega's home after someone there placed a 911 hang-up call. When the police arrived, no one answered the door; the Leander Police knew that Quintana used to live there with Noriega, so an officer called him on the phone. He told police he was at his apartment and that he'd been at the house. He said he had gotten into an argument with Noriega and she'd asked him to leave the house, which he did. On his way out, he said, she threw his jacket at him (neither apparently noticed that a loaded gun magazine had fallen from the pocket onto the driveway) – a story she later confirmed once police were finally able to get her to come outside and talk with them. Noriega told them it was only a verbal disturbance, but Stribling said that several days later she went to a doctor, complaining of concussionlike symptoms, and reported that Quintana had actually shoved her head through a piece of drywall in the home during the argument. Quintana denies the allegation, Stribling said.
This is now the second time this year that Quintana has been fired – and the second time he will appeal. When he was fired the first time, earlier this year, it was not for anything directly connected to the Sanders shooting – he had been given only a 15-day suspension for failure to activate his in-car camera. Although at least one Internal Affairs reviewer thought that Quintana's tactics leading up to the shooting were incorrect, Acevedo cleared Quintana of violating any major department policies. Quintana's actual termination didn't happen until earlier this year, after he was arrested in January in Williamson County for drunken driving.
At his arbitration hearing regarding that incident, Acevedo and the rest of Quintana's chain of command testified that Quintana was fired for a string of bad decisions – not only for the (still pending) DWI but also for several unrelated actions, including posting a picture of himself holding a rifle with the caption "back to work" to Facebook on the day he returned from administrative leave after the shooting. Acevedo and Quintana's supervisors testified that they believed he had demonstrated a pattern of poor judgment worthy of dismissal.
According to arbitrator Louise Wolitz, that conclusion simply wasn't fair. For starters, "this indefinite suspension was completely inconsistent with all the other discipline issued to officers involved in DWI incidents," she wrote. "There is no case in the record where an officer was indefinitely suspended for DWI." Importantly, she noted, there were no aggravating circumstances presented that would justify Quintana's harsher punishment: "There is nothing that properly differentiates the DWI situation Officer Quintana was involved in from any of the other DWI situations in the record," she continued. "To be appropriate, discipline must be consistent with that assessed in other similar cases for the same offense."
Moreover, she concluded, the allegation that Quintana had demonstrated a pattern of poor judgment was tenuous at best – and as for the Facebook photo dustup (Quintana not only removed the photo immediately after he was asked to do so but also deleted his Facebook account entirely), she wrote, "It is certainly a thin reed on which to hang a diagnosis of a pattern of poor judgment." Indeed, the "pattern" couldn't even be considered in upholding his termination, Wolitz wrote, because none of that conduct was ever listed in the disciplinary memo Acevedo provided to Quintana. "The discipline [for the DWI] was enhanced by improperly considering matters for which no discipline was issued and in which no rule or regulation was violated."
"We have no showing of a pattern of poor judgment in Officer Quintana's police work before the officer involved shooting incident," Wolitz wrote. Throughout the arbitration, the shooting death of Sanders seemed to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the unspoken reason that Acevedo appeared so intent on now showing Quintana the door despite his earlier decision to clear Quintana on all potential policy violations except the failure to activate his camera.
Now, with Quintana dismissed yet again, there is at least the suspicion that Acevedo's decision is designed to punish the officer for something that has nothing to do with the incident in question. Stribling said that, as in the 2006 situation involving Noriega, there are questions about the veracity of her statements regarding the alleged domestic abuse.
At his Wednesday press conference to announce the dismissal, Acevedo insisted that is simply not true. Noriega, he said, is a victim – and it is not surprising that she hasn't always been completely frank about the precise nature of her dealings with Quintana. "What [some people] call lying, I'd call absolutely consistent behavior by this victim," Acevedo said. Moreover, he said that during an investigation of the October incident, the department learned that there was yet another physical incident during which Quintana had allegedly pinned Noriega against a wall while trying to remove an engagement ring from her finger. In total, he said, Quintana's behavior is not appropriate for a police officer. "Rest assured, this department did the right thing for the right reasons," by firing Quintana again, Acevedo said. The evidence "will show that Officer Quintana should not be a member of this police department."
Posted here is 1) the disciplinary suspension memo by Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo concerning APD Officer Leonardo Quintana; and 2) the Leander Police Department report on the domestic disturbance incident addressed in the suspension memo.