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Family pursues new legal front against police defunding after son slain in Texas gang shootout

Relatives of Douglas Kantor to sue Austin, Texas, claiming politicians can't be immune from the 'intentional' act of defunding.

August 4, 2021 8:17pm

Updated: August 4, 2021 10:58pm

A New York family whose son was accidentally gunned down at a Texas bar during a street gang shooting is opening a new legal assault against the movement to defund police, preparing a lawsuit accusing the city of Austin of causing his death through the "intentional and solely political" act of cutting money for the local police gang unit.

Lawyers for the mother and surviving relatives of Douglas Kantor, 25, filed notice this week with the city of Austin about their intent to sue under Texas law, a move that if successful could lead to more legal challenges in other jurisdictions where police funding has been cut and violence has risen.

"Publicly available information proves that this incident began when two rival gangs of teenagers from Killeen, Texas deliberately drove to 6th street in Austin to engage in a fight," the notice states, recounting the tragedy. "After a long period of public argument De'Ondre White pulled out a gun and fired, hitting, among others, Douglas who was an innocent bystander."

Ordinarily government officials are afforded legal immunity for the policy decisions they make, even if they are negligent.

But the legal notice from Kantor's family clearly signals a plan to argue against that immunity, claiming city officials intentionally took overtly political action by cutting police funding and should be held accountable for the predictable outcome.

"The incident was a foreseeable result of the Mayor and the City council of Austin's intentional and solely politically motivated decision to defund the police and/or to dissolve the Austin Police Department's anti-gang unit," the notice states.

You can read the full notice here:

The lawyers added they will provide evidence at a later date to back their claims, citing a desire to let the ongoing criminal investigation of the shooting wrap up.

But Rosemarie Arnold, a lawyer representing Kantor's mother Julia Lightner of Airmont, N.Y. and his brother Nicholas Kantor, told Just the News the legal team has compelling evidence from the statements police officials made to the family in private.

"My clients were advised by detectives from the Austin Police Department that there were social media postings made by gang members which would have alerted a gang unit that at least one of the gangs was headed to sixth Street that night," Arnold said.

"Had the Austin gang unit not been disbanded, there would have been police officers shadowing the gang members that night," she said. "Had the mayor and council not defunded the police, there would have been more police officers available for crowd control, thereby allowing an ambulance an access route to the mortally wounded Doug Kantor."

The Austin Police Department declined comment. "The criminal investigation is active and ongoing. We do not have anything to provide further at this time," it told Just the News.

In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, the Austin City Council unanimously voted last August to cut its police department budget by $150 million. The decision was driven by more than Floyd, including a local police shooting of an unarmed black Hispanic man as well as a fatal citizen shooting of an anti-police protester.

The cuts were sharply criticized by police as well as Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who warned the decision "puts the brave men and women of the Austin Police Department and their families at greater risk, and paves the way for lawlessness."

"Public safety is job one, and Austin has abandoned that duty," Abbott said at the time.

Immediately after the cuts were imposed, then-Police Chief Brian Manley announced his unit that tracks gang members was being dissolved. In February, Manley stepped down after a little over four years in the chief's job and 30 years with the department.

Violence in Austin has since soared. Last week it was reported the city's 48 homicide investigations as of early August surpassed the 45 in all of 2020.

In May, the city acknowledged police staff shortages had led to a 30% increase in 911 response times.

Kantor, a tourist visiting Austin, was struck by gunfire in the early morning hours of June 12 while visiting a bar, one of several incidental casualties of a shootout begun by two rival gangs. His death provided an emotional reminder of the consequences of Austin's crime surge.

Former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik said if the Kantor lawsuit succeeds, it could open up an avalanche of lawsuits from others victimized by crime connected to the defunding movement.

"The sovereign immunity argument historically has been about negligence: You put out an order and something happens that is not your doing or because you didn't know better, then you have this immunity," Kerik explained in an interview.

"These defunding decisions are intentional decisions, policies put in place for political reasons and not any other reason," he added. "Nobody can say there is a benefit to the community. Every expert says it is detrimental  to society, to the community, to the black community that is disproportionately affected by the rise in violence. Yet they do it, for political reasons, and that is an intentional act that can and should overcome that sovereign immunity argument."

Kerik was asked whether other crime victims are likely to follow suit. "One hundred percent," he answered. "Everywhere where we have seen that intentional defunding of police, which has resulted in substantial  increases in violent crime, shootings and murders. You are going to see the same types of lawsuits filed."