KENTON BUCKNER: A racial term attributed to him, too.

Mediation has settled one of two lawsuits against the city of Little Rock over the firing of  police recruits for racial remarks on social media. The settlement in the case includes a bombshell from plaintiffs’ attorney: That Police Chief Kenton Buckner had admitted during out-of-court testimony that he had used an objectionable racial term.

A mediator reported a settlement Tuesday to Circuit Judge Tim Fox in the case of Brandon Schiefelbein and Katina Jones. The filing did not include terms, but I’m seeking them.

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Separate suits were filed by Brandon Schiefelbein and Brandon Gurley. Schiefelbein, who is white, had put a photo on Facebook of a sleeping black soldier with whom he served and a line of a song lyric that included the word “nigga.” Brandon Gurley, a black recruit who complained about the Facebook post, then was fired when it was found he’d used the same word in a 2010 Facebook post. His case is pending in Judge Mary McGowan’s court. Robert Newcomb, attorney for Schiefelbein, later added Katina Jones, who is black, as another defendant. She also was fired over the discovery of the use of the word in a song lyric in a social media post. Their suit argued some officers who used the same word were not fired.

Michael Laux, who represents Gurley along with Willard Proctor, said:  “The settlement of the lawsuits should portend well for our client, Brandon Gurley, who not only was the victim of racism while at the academy, but also suffered retaliation which was much worse than that of Mr. Schiefelbein and Miss Jones.”

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I haven’t reached Robert Newcomb, attorney for Schiefelbein and Jones, or City Attorney Tom Carpenter, but Laux said it was his understanding their suits were settled for payment  of $50,000 and an agreement to change their personnel records from “termination” to “resignation.” Both agreed not to reapply for jobs with LRPD, he said.

UPDATE: Here’s the settlement as outlined by Carpenter to the City Board. The total payment is $50,000, not $50,000 to each plaintiff as I originally wrote:

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Dear Mayor Stodola and Members of the Board of Directors,

The above matter was filed in the Pulaski Circuit Court earlier this year. The case challenged the constitutionality of the termination of two LRPD recruits because, in whole or in part, of Facebook posts which contained racially offensive language. One of the recruits was a white male and the other a black female. Because the focus was upon state and not federal law, the case was in state court before the Honorable Timothy Davis Fox. Judge Fox mandates mediation in all cases before him. Such a session was held on Monday, 27 August 2018. The settlement outlined below has been agreed upon and as soon as the paper work is finished, an order of dismissal with prejudice will be filed with the Court.

The terms are as follows:

1. There is no admission of liability by the City, and the plaintiffs will provide a full and complete release from any claims that were made or which could have been made;

2. The two former recruits will have their termination by dismissal removed from their records;

3. In return, their separation from employment will be shown as a resignation from LRPD;

4. Neither recruit will be permitted to apply in the future for employment with LRPD or any other City department;

5. A total of $50,000.00 will be paid to the plaintiffs for any potential damages, attorneys’ fees, or costs:

a. This is one total $50,000.00 payment for plaintiffs and their attorney, to be divided among the three of them;

b. The City pays $25,000.00 of this amount, and the AMLDF pays the other $25,000.00.

This is the end of the City’s involvement as to these two plaintiffs.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Tom

UPDATE: Newcomb said the case settled because of issues on both sides. He said it’s clear the city has room under the federal constitution to fire an employee for speech if it’s not in the public interest, but the Arkansas Constitution has broader speech protection. But case law isn’t clear and a settlement offered plaintiffs some return now rather than waiting a couple of years for an appeal of a court decision.

But he revealed something Carpenter didn’t reveal in his memorandum to the board.

Newcomb said in taking a deposition from Police Chief Kenton Buckner he said he asked Buckner if he’d ever used the word “nigger” since he had been police chief. “Yes,” Buckner responded.

(To be clear: Newcomb in relating events to me said he’d asked Buckner about the ‘N’ word, but employed the actual word in asking the question. He confirmed for me it was the version of the epithet ending in “er” not in “a,” as in the cases of the recruits.)

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As a result, Newcomb said he had asked City Manager Bruce Moore in his deposition to investigate. And he said he got a commitment from Moore to provide the results of that investigation, even if it didn’t result in a termination or suspension.

But Newcomb said discipline was in order if Buckner did use the word, given the firings of recruits for use of the word “nigga” in song lyrics, in some cases preceding time as members of the police department. He differentiated his clients’ from the remaining case because Brandon Gurley is also accused of lying.

“He should at least get 30 days off, if not fired,” Newcomb said of Buckner. “If not, the city manager and city board are a bunch of hypocrites.”

I’m attempting to get comments from Buckner and Moore.