Lawrence Smith

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.

An arbitrator reinstated Austin police Officer Leonardo Quintana on Thursday after five months off the force following a drunken driving offense earlier this year.

Quintana’s indefinite suspension for the DWI was not appropriate because the discipline was not consistent with those of other Austin Police Department officers who also were convicted of the same offense, wrote arbitrator Louise Wolitz. She reduced his suspension to 15 days.

Quintana, a center of controversy after the May 2009 shooting of Nathaniel Sanders II, petitioned for reinstatement after his suspension in May. In addition to the DWI charges, Quintana faces two lawsuits related to his involvement in the shooting of the 18-year-old Sanders and 22-year-old Sir Lawrence Smith in 2009.

“Officer Quintana is reminded that he now has two 15-day suspensions on his record,” Wolitz wrote. “Any further disciplinary violations may again lead to indefinite suspension.”

APD officials said in a statement they were disappointed in the arbitrator’s decision and that management stands by its original decision. They declined to comment further.

During Quintana’s Sept. 2-3 reinstatement hearing, police Chief Art Acevedo testified that the officer had too many lapses in judgement throughout his nearly 10-year career with the department, including a trespass charge and his failure to turn on his dashboard camera before the Sanders shooting.

Quintana was patrolling the streets in May 2009 when he spotted a car reported at several crime scenes in the area. Smith and Sanders were sleeping in the car as a driver took them to an apartment complex in East Austin. According to court records, the driver got out of the car and Quintana detained him. The officer attempted to physically wake the passengers and startled them, causing Sanders to pull out his gun, court records show. Quintana shot Smith in the chest and fatally shot Sanders while his dashboard camera was off.

Smith filed a lawsuit against the officer Tuesday on the grounds that Quintana “acted willfully, deliberately, maliciously or with reckless disregard for plaintiff’s clearly established constitutional rights against the use of unreasonable, necessary and excessive force.” Smith demanded an undisclosed amount for damages — including medical expenses, lost wages and disfigurement — and a jury trial.

Quintana also faces another lawsuit, filed in September, by the Sanders family after City Council members rejected a $750,000 settlement in July. The family’s attorney, Adam Loewy, declined to comment on Quintana’s reinstatement.