City will pay $75K to settle Austin Police excessive force lawsuit

Investigations

Editor’s note: This report has been updated with a response from the City of Austin’s public information office, which was sent to KXAN after publication of this report.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Quentin Perkins wasn’t anywhere to be found inside Austin’s city hall Thursday morning. But, the settlement check the city will soon cut him was one of the first items city council saw when they opened the meeting.

A city attorney told council the city negotiated a $75,000 settlement with Perkins’ legal team over the excessive force lawsuit filed against the city and two police officers in August 2018.

Quentin Perkins attended the trial against the two officers he accused of using excessive force against him during a February 2018 arrest in Austin. City council approved paying Perkins a $75,000 settlement on Oct. 3, 2019.

Not a single Austin city council member objected to approving the settlement during a vote Thursday morning.

Council voted unanimously to pay Quentin Perkins $75,000 to settle a civil lawsuit he filed in the case. The settlement comes 10 months after a Travis County jury acquitted two officers of criminal charges in the case.

“They tased him, they lied on him, they filed charges, they took him to jail and in the end it was clear, he was not injured but his civil rights were violated,” Perkins’ attorney Bobby Taylor told KXAN. “So, this was a case where we wanted a higher amount, they wanted a lower amount.”

“This was not what they came prepared to settle this case for,” Taylor said.

Negotiations between the city and Perkins’ lawyer have gone on since July when both sides filed a notice to the court they intended to mediate a possible end to the case.

The negotiations essentially ended with council’s vote to approve paying Perkins $75,000 during Thursday’s meeting.

“The sky could have been the limit, especially with these two officers and what the facts and the evidence as it came out. And, I don’t think they wanted to retry this in civil court. Whatever happened in criminal court, civil court would have been totally different,” Taylor told KXAN.

Perkins’ attorney, Bobby Taylor, told KXAN the city wanted a “lesser amount” in the negotiations that started in July in the federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers and the city.

The city’s public information office immediately declined a request for an interview on the settlement, but sent KXAN this one sentence statement: “The parties have worked to reach an agreement in this federal lawsuit and the City is glad to move forward having resolved this incident.”

“My clients have both denied liability in this case,” Pfaff and Petraitis’ attorney, Robert Icenhauer-Ramirez told KXAN. “For the first time in 40 years of practice, I asked that they put in that language,”of no liability in settling the case,” Icenhauer-Ramirez said.

Icenhauer-Ramirez pointed out the fact that his clients were acquitted in the case and that because of that, “I felt very comfortable there was no liability,” Icenhauer-Ramirez told KXAN.

In February 2018, Austin Police Officers Robert Pfaff and Donald Petraitis were rushing to a shooting when they encountered Perkins, who records identified as a witness in the case. City documents show Petraitis lied about details of the encounter and Pfaff used force against Perkins by shocking him with a taser when he had no good reason to do so.

A Travis County jury found both officers not guilty.

Then, on March 19 — three months after the acquittal — the chief placed both officers on indefinite suspension. The officers remain suspended, at last report, and could still appeal the chief’s decision, according to the city’s public information office.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley indefinitely suspended both officers in the Perkins case in March. Both men are still under that suspension order, according to the city.

APD indicates that the taser is to be used only in instances of resistance, and since Perkins had been on his knees with both hands in the air above his head with no weapon visible, he did not pose a significant threat to the officers, the APD disciplinary filing stated. Video evidence of the incident contradicted the officers’ statements, which claimed that Perkins had been on his feet and about to run away, according to the APD report.

The officers’ statements of the events contained multiple parts that could be proven false, including Pfaff’s claim that he could not explain his intent to deploy his taser — as APD requires — because there hadn’t been enough time, according to the chief’s disciplinary report.

Manley’s report indicated his belief the officers were in violation of the department’s policies on telling the truth about the details of the arrests officers make.  

In a statement released in March in response to the chief’s disciplinary action, the attorneys for both officers wrote to KXAN: 

“We are deeply disappointed in the Austin Police Department command staff for their decision to indefinitely suspend Officers Petraitis and Pfaff. We were hopeful that lessons had been learned from the evidence we presented in the criminal trial, particularly the scientific evidence regarding human perception from a tenured UT psychology professor, as well as the evidence we elicited from APD’s own training academy officers who instructed Officers Petraitis and Pfaff on Taser use. The jury certainly became educated and promptly issued nine acquittals, and this following the DA’s dismissal of two indictments mid-trial. Instead, it appears APD command staff is either unable or unwilling to admit the series of mistakes that were made in its investigation of these officers. While we would have strongly preferred that APD do the right thing and reinstate these officers today, we will see to it that this occurs in the near future after presenting the same evidence to an arbitrator.” 

Perkins’ federal lawsuit is still pending, despite council approving the settlement. A motion is expected in the case, asking for the judge to dismiss the lawsuit based upon the $75,000 settlement. At last report, there is no date set yet for that hearing.

The city also confirmed today neither officer has yet to file an appeal on the indefinite suspensions in an attempt to get their jobs back.

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