“A white Little Rock police officer who fatally shot a black man during a traffic stop in February won’t face charges in the killing, Pulaski County prosecutors said Friday.”
This was ABC’s 7 On Your Side’s (KATV) reporting on Officer Charles Starks shooting which occurred back in February when he was criminally cleared of any wrong doing in April of last year.
Never mind the fact that the suspect, 30-year-old Bradley Blackshire, accelerated his vehicle (I use the pronoun “his” loosely, as the vehicle was stolen) into Officer Starks prior to the shooting.
After what I assume is likely the longest year of Officer Starks’ life, a judge ordered earlier this week that he be reinstated as a police officer at Little Rock Police Department.
Prosecutors reviewed the case extensively, as is procedure, and determined in April that Officer Starks was justified in the shooting.
In a letter Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley issued to Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey, it says Officer Starks was “confronted with the imminent threat of deadly force,” both with the vehicle barreling towards him and the officer’s “reasonable belief” that Blackshire was armed and going to shoot him.
The letter said Officer Starks ordered Blackshire to get out of the car at least 12 times, but Blackshire refused. A loaded .45 caliber handgun was located in Blackshire’s car after the shooting.
After Officer Starks was criminally cleared, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr released a statement saying, “Whether or not you agree with Prosecuting Attorney Jegley’s decision, the fact remains that there is a Little Rock mother grieving the loss of her son.” He encouraged impending protestors to remain peaceful.
What a sigh of relief for an officer, to be found cleared of any wrongdoing in a court of law when forced to take a life in order to save his own.
Until his Chief of Police slaps him in the face.
A month after the trial, Chief Humphrey handed Officer Starks a letter of termination. In it, the chief says that Starks violated the department’s use-of-force policy, which prohibits officers from moving in front of an oncoming vehicle when deadly force is the probable outcome.
Officer Starks had stated that he crossed in front of his vehicle in order to quickly get to cover.
The Chief decided to fire Starks against the recommendation of four supervisors who reviewed the incident. The other reviewing officers were Sergeant Harold Scratch, Lt. Dana Jackson, Capt. Heath Helton and Assistant Chief Hayward Finks. All 4 of them believed that Starks should have been exonerated.
Assistance Chief Finks sent a letter to the Chief following the firing, saying:
“I do not believe that Officer Starks intentionally nor voluntarily stepped in front of the vehicle driven by Mr. Blackshire.”
The Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police also spoke out against Officer Starks’ firing. The organization said:
“Officers are required to make split second decisions and today’s decision [to fire Officer Starks] has the potential to make officers hesitate in their actions, which could prove detrimental to the citizens of Little Rock and the officers themselves.”
While Officer Starks was in the appeal process to attempt to get his job back, prosecutor Jegley revealed some disturbing information. Jegley told reporters that Mayor Scott had put immense pressure on Chief Humphrey and the rest of the department to fire Officer Starks.
After 2 LRPD assistant chiefs took the stand and testified to the pressure coming from Mayor Scott, Chief Humphrey also took the stand and said that he never had discussions with the Mayor Scott on whether to terminate Officer Starks.
Jegley told reporters:
“I was directly told that [the mayor] wanted to fire Officer Starks without any due process.”
Assistant Chief Finks also said during the trial that the case file was prepared and sent to the prosecutor’s desk just 13 days after the incident occurred. It typically takes 6-8 weeks for this to happen.
Further, Assistance Chief Finks testified that the internal investigation was completed in a sloppy manner, rushed and incomplete. He said:
“There are a lot of things that were either rushed or not completed because there was pressure from Mayor Scott from the very beginning to do this investigation quickly and, in his opinion, to fire Officer Starks as quickly as possible.”
Assistant Chief Alice Fulk testified that Mayor Scott wanted Officer Starks fired the day the shooting occurred in February. She explained due process and the possibilities of lawsuits if he in fact were to be fired on that day.
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Of course, Mayor Scott and Chief Humphrey deny any attempt at witholding of due process and any type of vendetta against Officer Starks. In response, Jegley said:
“I know what the truth is and I don’t have any motivation to lie about it. I know what I was told when this process was going on when we had an interim chief prior to chief Humphrey’s arrival. I know the people who said what they said when they said it to me, I have no reason to doubt that what they said is true.”
In September, a civil service commission voted unanimously to uphold Officer Starks’ firing. His attorney, Robert Newcomb spoke out against the vote.
“He would’ve been killed had Mr. Blackshire gotten his way,” Newcomb said. “And he loses his job.”
Earlier this week, however, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ordered Officer Starks to be reinstated as a Police Officer. Officer Starks will be retroactively suspended for 30 days, and his pay will be reduced to that of a starting officer.
Judge Fox said in his ruling that Officer Starks did not violate Arkansas law or the Little Rock Police Department’s use-of-force policy. He said Officer Starks’ actions “were those of a reasonable certified law enforcement officer … in an emergency situation.”
The Judge also said, however, that the officer made some “illogical” decisions prior to his approach to Blackshire and the vehicle, which “set the stage for a deadly confrontation.”
“This is a bad day for Little Rock,” said former NAACP former president Rizelle Aaron, who is also a friend of the Blackshire family. “It’s a black eye for Little Rock. Judge Fox, for whatever reason he made the decision, I think it was more political than not.”
Aaron said he hopes Officer Starks will look for another job, because Aaron fears for his own safety and other community members.
“Every time he pulls one of us over, I believe he’s going to be prepared to hurt one of us. And again, we have to decide whether he goes home or whether we go home.”
Regardless, Officer Starks plans on returning to his LRPD home to continue his career.
A representative from The City of Arkansas said they plan to appeal the reinstatement, but as of yet no papers have been filed.
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