AUSTIN (KXAN) - When settlements totaling more than $900,000 were reached Thursday to close the books on two police shootings, some Austin City Council members said it would have probably been more expensive to fight it out in court.
Nathaniel Sanders was killed May 11, 2009, by police gunfire. His friend, Sir Lawrence Smith, was wounded but survived. Their families looked to the courts for compensation, contending that the shootings were not justified.
"When you make a settlement, you are not admitting guilt. You are not making an indictment against the officers, you are simply saying, 'I don't know and I don't want to risk it,'" said Council member Sheryl Cole, who was the driving force on the council to settle with the families.
But a review of some recent officer-involved shootings shows that the answer is not so cut and dried
In 2002, Sophia King wielding a knife in front of her East Austin apartment was shot and killed by Austin police officer John Coffey. She suffered from a mental illness.
The King family sued the city and went to federal court. The judge ruled in favor of the city.
A year later, Jesse Owens was shot and killed by Austin police officer Scott Glasgow after he began driving away during a traffic stop. The case attracted national media attention, and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson went so far as to call for a federal investigation.
The Owens family sued the city, but the city prevailed in court.
In cases where the city has settled, it has proven expensive.
In 2005, Daniel Rocha, 18, was shot in the back and killed by police officer Julie Schroeder. Rocha had a criminal background and struggled with Sroeder during a traffic stop in South Austin.
A lawsuit filed by the Rocha family was settled out of court for $1 million even though Schroeder was cleared of any criminal wrong doing.
"We had a young man who died that evening so we had a responsibiltiy to step forward and do the right thing," then-Council member Brewster McCracken said at the time.
In 2007, officer Michael Olsen fatally shot Kevin Brown during a foot chase outside of an East Austin night club.
Olsen was fired, but cleared of any criminal wrong doing. The Brown family filed a lawsuit against the city and settled out of court for $1 million.
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