Appeal of Little Rock officer fired after killing car-stealing motorist awaits fall court session

With the Arkansas appellate courts beginning their fall season, Little Rock resident Charles Stark can wait for a possible solution to the decision to sack the Little Rock police officer who served just six weeks after Mayor Frank Scott Jr. took office. Later a car-theft suspect was killed. .

Starks appealed the termination decision made by Police Chief Keith Humphrey—the first major hire of Scott’s administration—which resulted in Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox overturning Stark’s firing and reinstating him in force.

The order to reinstate the Starks ultimately cost Little Rock approximately $61,000, with $28,178 to cover the Starks’ lost wages and another $32,730 to reimburse his legal expenses.

The firing of Starks further declined with two top police commanders – one of whom eventually left the department – suing the chief, claiming that his testimony that Humphrey had deliberately escalated the investigation had made the chief so Shame that he had launched a campaign of force to retaliate against him and his supporters.

The family of Starks’ slain man, Bradley Blackshire, has also launched a federal civil rights lawsuit against Starks and the city. The killing of the 33-year-old man led to street protests in the city, resulting in vandalism by some.

Starks left after about nine months, complaining in an ongoing lawsuit against the chief and the mayor that they had intentionally made his working conditions unbearable enough to force him to be rehired.

In his decision to put the Starks back in force, Fox agreed with Humphrey that the Starks had violated police security protocol in the fatal encounter with Blackshire and should be punished. But the judge considered the firing of Starks very serious because the firing decision did not include the issue of Starks’ use of force.

Fox reduced the termination to a 30-day suspension, stripping Starks of six years of seniority as an officer and reducing him to rookie pay.

It was a decision that neither side agreed to, resulting in an appeal by the Starks and the city to the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Court filings show that the High Court was fully informed by August, meaning the appeals judge could rule at any time in the coming weeks.

To overturn Fox’s decision to reinstate Starks, the appeals court would have to find that the judge acted against the primacy of the evidence or that his decision was clearly a mistake. During the proceedings, Fox noted that the standard of appellate review is “the highest, most rigorous standard” for such decisions.

In his appeal of Fox’s decision, Starks asked the appeals court to acquit him with a decision that he did not knowingly violate the process of his face-off with Blackshire in a West Little Rock parking lot in February 2019.

Starks says Blackshire was deliberately trying to hit him with the vehicle while behind the wheel of the stolen car, as Starks refused to park the vehicle. Stark was walking after parking his squad car, shooting into Blackshire’s car after he cut it off.

Stark was on patrol when he was ordered to stop a car being driven by Blackshire after another officer reported the vehicle was stolen. Blackshire’s family said he had borrowed the car from a friend.

The police chief and the judge separately determined that Starks had violated police rules that required officers to move out of the way of an oncoming vehicle if they would be required to shoot while standing on their ground.

In their appeals brief, the city’s attorneys denounced Fox’s reinstatement order as outright wrong, noting that the police chief’s decision to sack Stark was defeated by a 5–1 vote of the city’s civil service commission hearing the testimony of 16 witnesses. was retained after, four of whom were Stark’s observers. and the commander. All of the Starks’ observers objected to the Starks being shot.

The city claims that Fox was wrong to consider the testimony of two officers outside the command of the Starks, Sgt. Both James Stephens and Assistant Chief of Internal Affairs Alice Fulk disagreed with the decision to remove Starks. Fulk has since become the head of the Capitol Police Department.

City lawyers said his testimony should have been considered irrelevant and disregarded because neither of them was involved in an internal investigation into Stark’s actions.

The state of the city is such that without his input, Fox would not have been able to find a base to reverse the Starks’ firing.

City lawyers further argued that Fox did not attach sufficient importance to Stark’s testimony that he intentionally drove in front of Blackshire’s car to cover up.

Rather than disregarding how the Starks came to kill Blackshire, the judge should have considered that Starks intentionally and unnecessarily put himself in a position that made the use of lethal force very likely, The city attorney explains his brief.

Fox wrote in his judgment that he evaluated the actions of the Starks, after which the officer decided to shoot and found no fault in his actions after exiting his squad car. But “Many Starks” [previous] Non-emergency decisions fall below the threshold of a properly certified law enforcement officer,” the standard that the court is required to apply, the judge wrote.

Fox described two of Stark’s “irrational” decisions before confronting Blackshire that resulted in Stark violating police procedure: parking his squad car in such a way that he had to face Blackshire’s car to face the driver. Crossing in front, but not parking the squad car, a method that would have prevented Blackshire from exiting the parking lot.

The judge addressed the dire consequences, notably the death of Blackshire, which resulted from the Starks’ decision to face Blackshire.

In addition to killing Blackshire, his passenger could have been killed or injured, as could anyone in the immediate area, the judge wrote. Officers rushing to assist the Starks could have been injured or killed, he wrote. The death of one person is serious, Fox said, but the outcome of the confrontation could have been worse.

But the question of the Starks firing isn’t the only issue the appeals court has asked to be resolved. City attorneys also asked the court to overturn Fox’s contempt findings on the city’s decision to withhold his gun and badge after ordering Stark to be suspended without pay and hired once again. are saying. The city wanted to keep Starks off active duty until his reinstatement appeal was decided.

Two weeks after Fox ordered Starks to be rehired, Starks complained to the judge that police would not fully reinstate him because officers were withholding his gun and badge and suspended him with pay. . The Starks petitioned Fox to hold the mayor and the chief in contempt.

Starks’ lawyers accused the mayor and the police chief of stigmatizing Starks, which not only violates a court order overturning Starks’ firing, but also financially punishes Starks by preventing them from performing off-duty law enforcement tasks. also does, which can add more than $20,000 annually to his income.

After a hearing a few days later, Starks got his gun and badge back on a judge’s order, with Fox stating that if Starks’ gun and badge were not returned as soon as possible, the judge would confiscate Chief’s gun and badge, will catch them. Stark was denied a gun and badge until Starks was returned, as well as fined $10,000 for each day.

Fox found that the decision to retrieve the Starks’ equipment was a “deliberate and willful violation” of their order to restore the Starks, although they declined to impose any penalties as the Starks’ equipment was returned almost immediately.

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