LITTLE ROCK, AR – A Little Rock police officer was involved in a shooting in last year when a suspect in an auto theft tried to run him over. The suspect died on the scene.
After the internal and external investigations were completed, and the shooting was ruled justified, the police chief fired him on a technicality.
In January of this year, a court ordered Officer Charles Starks to be reinstated, only to have the city appeal. And after the judge refused to stay the order, the department refused to give him back his badge, gun and credentials.
The judge held the city in contempt. So, they finally acquiesced and put him on desk duty.
Now, as the city continues its appeal over his reinstatement, he is enduring a difficult and even hostile work environment. But before we get into the details of the last sentence, let us provide some more detail on the steps that got us here.
Warning: some of these videos contain graphic content.
A month after the trial, Chief Keith 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 four of them believed that Starks should have been exonerated.
Assistant 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 two 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, Assistant 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.
Of course, Mayor Scott and Chief Humphrey deny any attempt at withholding 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.”
It is unclear if the city was required to pay Starks back pay for 10 of the 11 months that he was out of a job.
But nearly three weeks after Fox issued his ruling of reinstatement, Starks was not back to work.
As such, the city of Little Rock was ruled to be in contempt of court after failing to follow through on a judge’s order to reinstate a police officer who had been fired last year.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox admonished the city, and said he would impose fines of $10,000 per day unless his order is followed.
He has told the city that the police department must return the gun, badge and law enforcement credentials of Officer Starks, who was fired last year for failure to follow department policy regarding use of deadly force.
Fox said that if the order is not followed, he will also force the chief of police to surrender his own badge, gun and credentials.
City attorneys told Fox that Starks will get his gun back once he passes his regular qualification test.
So, now, fast forward to today.
Starks is back on duty, working 12th Street desk assignment, which is commonly known to be the worst part of Little Rock.
Law Enforcement Today reached out to both Starks’ attorney and the Little Rock FOP in an attempt to discuss the working conditions that he has dealt with since his return.
As of this writing, his attorney had not responded to our requests. The LRFOP did respond saying that someone would be in touch with us soon. Any future communication received from either party will be updated here.
According to the motion filed by Starks’ attorney, while the assignment itself may potentially be an issue, the immediate supervisor for that position certainly is. The same captain that Starks reports to is testifying against him in court.
The captain also publicly said that her review board regarding the shooting found it to be unjustified. However, when that board was interviewed by Starks’ attorney, all members disagreed with the captain, saying they all viewed the shooting justifiable. In the aftermath of that discussion, the board members asked the police chief to investigate.
Not only that, but Starks was informed that he will have a new supervisor starting in June. His soon-to-be Lieutenant was investigated and transferred for making racist comments about Starks and other white officers.
As for the assignment location itself, Starks is working a desk that is publicly accessible. And he has been harassed and threatened more than once.
A Facebook user posted:
“Killer-Cop Starks is assigned to the front desk at 12th Street Station. CONFIRMED.”
A second poster responded:
“Well, shit. I guess I have some paperwork to pick up from the bitch. What shift times?”
Both of the individuals associated with those comments had to be removed from Civil Service hearing involving Starks and the shooting.
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