Judge Holds City In Contempt For Refusing To Fully Reinstate Fired Officer
Little Rock, AR – A Pulaski County judge held the City of Little Rock in contempt on Tuesday after the mayor and police chief flouted the court’s order to reinstate a fired police officer.
On Jan. 17, LRPD Officer Charles Starks’ attorney filed a motion urging the court to hold Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. in contempt for refusing to return Officer Starks’ gun and badge when he returned to work on Jan. 16, according to the Arkansas Democrat.
Although Officer Starks was court-ordered to be returned to duty, the department had placed him on “relieved of duty” status, which is generally utilized for officers who are under investigation or facing disciplinary action, KATV reported.
On Tuesday, Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Time Fox ruled that city officials acted with “intentional and willful violation” of his order, so he gave them an ultimatum, according to the Arkansas Democrat.
Either Chief Humphrey could hand over his own gun and badge and the city would pay a $10,000-per-day fine, or they could return Officer Starks’ gun and badge and reinstate him to full, regular duties.
Had they opted to pay the daily fine, the funds would have come out of the taxpayers’ pockets, the Arkansas Democrat reported.
As such, Fox ordered that the person who made the decision to continue disregarding his order and who therefore chose to “waste” the funds would also be responsible for delivering the payment to his office each day at 9 a.m.
"I know the city disagrees with [reinstatement], but it's the punishment allowed by the civil service [laws] and no more," Fox said at the hearing, according to the Arkansas Democrat. "What's happening is an additional punishment, and it's in direct violation of my order of Jan. 2."
Officer Starks’ gun and badge were returned to him on Tuesday.
The reinstated officer will also be receiving eight-and-one-half-months’ worth of lost wages and benefits to compensate him for the period of time he was fired.
The court will determine whether or not the city will be responsible for paying his legal expenses, which stand at approximately $30,000 thus far, the Arkansas Democrat reported.
The city said it plans to appeal Fox’s ruling, KATV reported.
On Jan. 1, Fox reversed the Little Rock Civil Service Commission’s ruling that upheld the termination of Officer Starks despite the fact that the fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire had already been ruled justified, KTHV reported.
The court found that Starks’ 30-day suspension and a salary reduction were the only appropriate punishment and ruled there could be no more penalties assigned to Officer Starks.
"The court has determined the 30-day suspension and the reduction in salary to that of an entry level officer are sufficient sanctions for Appellant Starks' violation of Little Rock Police Department General Order 303.II.E.2," the court ruling said.
The judge also ordered that Officer Starks should get back pay, at the lesser rate, and reimbursement or payment for all benefits from the time of his termination to his reinstatement, KTHV reported.
Officer Starks’ attorney, Robert Newcomb, said his client was happy to be returning to the police force, KTHV reported.
"He gets to go back and get his job which he is happy about. He's going back as an entry level employee, and I understand that," Newcomb said. "I hope that the city allows him to go back and does not appeal this. It heads off to the Court of Appeals now. That's the way the state has set up the process."
The fatal encounter occurred on Feb. 22, after Officer Starks spotted 30-year-old Bradley Blackshire driving a stolen vehicle in the area of Rodney Parham Road and West 12th Street, KATV reported at the time.
Blackshire backed into a parking place in a nearby lot, at which point Officer Starks drove up in his marked patrol vehicle with his lights activated, according to the Associated Press.
The officer drew his weapon, approached Blackshire’s driver’s side window, and ordered him to show his hands.
He then ordered Blackshire to get out of the vehicle multiple times, dashcam footage showed.
“What did I do?” Blackshire asked, refusing to get out of the car. “What are you going to shoot me for?”
“Get out of the car!” Officer Starks said repeatedly.
“No,” the suspect responded, just before he started driving the stolen vehicle towards the officer.
Officer Starks moved backwards and continued to issue commands, but Blackshire proceeded to drive into him.
The officer fired several rounds, at which point the car continued to move forwards, knocking Officer Starks onto the hood.
The officer fired multiple rounds at the driver through the windshield as the car carried him across the parking lot.
A second patrol car then pulled up, and collided with the passenger side of the stolen vehicle.
Officer Starks tumbled from the hood, and both officers converged on the driver.
“Put your f--king hands up!” the second officer ordered repeatedly.
But Blackshire accelerated again, sending the vehicle into a grassy area at the far end of the lot, where it crashed into something off-camera and came to rest near a tree.
“Hey, can I jump out?” a female passenger in the suspect vehicle asked the officers.
The woman climbed out of the passenger side window, then said something to one of the officers.
“She said he’s got a gun!” Officer Starks yelled out.
The officers repeatedly ordered Blackshire to show his hands and radioed for an ambulance.
Blackshire died at the scene, Little Rock Interim Police Chief Wayne Bewley said, according to the Associated Press.
Officer Starks suffered an injury to his right leg, and the female passenger in the stolen car was uninjured.
Chief Humphrey went against the recommendations of four police supervisors who reviewed the case, and fired Officer Starks on May 6.
In the letter of termination, Chief Humphrey alleged that Officer Starks violated the department’s use-of-force policy by not moving out of the path of the suspect’s vehicle as it was moving towards him.
"When confronted by an oncoming vehicle, officers will move out of its path, if possible, rather than fire at the vehicle," the policy read, according to KATV.
Little Rock Assistant Chief Hayward Finks was one of the senior officers who reviewed the incident.
"I do not believe that Officer Starks intentionally nor voluntarily stepped in front of the vehicle driven by [the suspect],” Assistant Chief Finks wrote in a letter documenting his findings.
The Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) also expressed its strong disagreement with Officer Starks’ termination.
"Officers are required to make split second decisions and today’s decision has the potential to make officers hesitate in their actions, which could prove detrimental to the citizens of Little Rock and the officers themselves," the FOP said.