APD Quintana Firing Upheld
Arbitrator says APD's charges against police officer were 'true'
On Wednesday, May 4, independent arbitrator Thomas A. Cipolla sustained the Austin Police Department's Oct. 27, 2010, indefinite suspension (i.e., dismissal) of former Officer Leonardo Quintana for criminal actions and insubordination related to two domestic violence episodes (in 2008 and 2009) involving a fellow officer and Quintana's former girlfriend, Lori Noriega. Cipolla ruled that the APD's charges against Quintana were "true" and that the department had imposed discipline within the time required by civil service law. Quintana is most notorious for having fatally shot Nathaniel Sanders II in May 2009, but that incident did not figure directly into the discipline nor his appeal and its arbitration.
However, the shooting did overshadow a series of disciplinary proceedings against Quintana (including a DWI following an internal affairs interview about the case), and Cipolla noted that while "in 2003 [Quintana] was Officer of the Year and has received commendations ... his subsequent record undermines these mitigating factors." Quintana had testified during the arbitration hearings that the shooting and its aftermath had contributed to his drinking problems, and the domestic violence charges (which he disputed) allegedly involved heavy drinking.
Cipolla's 39-page decision summarizes both Quintana's version and the APD's version of the case, of the volatile relationship between Quintana and Noriega – who were at one time engaged – and of the two incidents (November 2008 and October 2009) in which Noriega alleged assaults by Quintana. Noriega initially told fellow officers of the incidents but supervisors only learned of them in May 2010; Cipolla rejected Quintana's argument that the department had failed to act within the 180-day limit required by civil service law. He also ruled that Quintana had violated an order not to discuss the charges with potential witnesses; that he did in fact assault Noriega on two occasions, the second time also committing criminal trespass; and that APD Chief Art Acevedo's decision to terminate Quintana for these offenses was appropriate.
The APD's attorneys asked, as summarized by Cipolla: "What is the value of progressive discipline if an officer can admit to committing the crimes of drunken driving, assault, criminal trespass, and criminal mischief, and yet keep his job?" He concluded Quintana "may, in fact, have seen the errors of his way[s] and is ready to go forward with his career and his life in an honorable way. However, given the totality of his recent record, the commission of these alleged criminal acts and insubordination, it does not have to be with the APD."
The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Sanders family against Quintana remains pending, currently scheduled for a November trial.
The full Cipolla decision is posted here.