Little Rock Police Officer Charles Starks, who fatally shot Bradley Blackshire after trying to stop him to investigate a stolen car, has been fired by new Police Chief Keith Humphrey, a department spokesman has confirmed.
Starks was relieved of duty shortly after the shooting of Blackshire, who was attempting to drive slowly away after refusing Starks’ order to get out of the vehicle. The car bumped Starks. He moved in front of the vehicle and fired multiple times through the windshield, killing Blackshire. Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley said Starks shouldn’t be charged in the case because he had reason to believe in the seconds that elapsed that his life was in danger. The investigation included a finding that Blackshire was under the influence of drugs that day and that a loaded weapon was in the car he was driving, which had been reported stolen.
The killing of Blackshire, who had a criminal record, has sparked protests, including one outside the state Capitol that prompted a lockdown of the building and posting of snipers on the rooftop during the peaceful demonstration.
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., who appointed Humphrey, has been pressing Humphrey to fire Starks, according to my sources. Humphrey had said he wanted to do a detailed review of the administrative review of Starks’ action that day. Starks has been the subject of multiple complaints since joining the force in 2013. In one incident off-duty, he had a confrontation with another man outside a movie theater.
The reasons for Starks’ firing haven’t been released. The circumstances that lead to a firing are to be made public under the Freedom of Information Act, but the subject of such action has an opportunity to object first. The LRPD is merely confirming the firing and noting he is able to appeal that firing to the Civil Service Commission.
Omavi Shukur, lawyer for the Blackshire family, issued this statement:
The family welcomes the decision to terminate Charles Starks’s employment. We hope the City will also take further steps towards making amends for this avoidable, devastating tragedy, which, in addition to bringing distress to Bradley Blackshire’s community, has upended the lives of his loved ones, including his five children.
Starks’ lawyer, Robert Newcomb, said they filed a notice of appeal of the firing today with the Little Rock Civil Service Commission and will ask that the hearing be expedited because the next available date currently is in August. It takes a vote of four members of the seven-member commission to overturn a firing. If he loses there, he could appeal to Circuit Court.
Newcomb said Humphrey fired Starks for violating a departmental rule that officers should not “voluntarily” place themselves in front of an oncoming vehicle where deadly force is a probable outcome. The rule says officers should move out of the path, if possible, rather than fire at the vehicle.
The firing overruled a sergeant, lieutenant, captain and Assistant Chief Hayward Finks, all of whom said Starks’ actions were justified, Newcomb said. Newcomb said Starks moved in front of the car as he moved to get to his own vehicle for cover and that Blackshire was turning the car toward Starks in the less than two seconds when Starks started firing. Had Starks not moved to where he moved, any shots he fired would have endangered civilians, Newcomb said.
No consideration of Starks’ past record was considered in the chief’s decision. Newcomb added that he was still upset the police department had released a record showing 10 complaints had been made against Starks. Only two resulted in suspensions, he said.
Newcomb said Humphrey’s decision “appears to be influenced by the mayor.” He said officers with “100 years of experience said he should be exonerated — his lieutenant, his captain and the assistant chief over patrol.” UPDATE: Scott has publicly said today he didn’t influence Humphrey and also declined comment on the decision while his appeal is pending.
Newcomb said Humphrey had been quoted as saying he didn’t act at the direction of the mayor, but Newcomb commented, “I wouldn’t make any bets it didn’t happen.”
Newcomb said he’d prepare a copy of the finding and the findings of exoneration by other officers and provide it after redactions for another officer mentioned in the report. That was Officer Michael Simpson, who drove into Blackshire’s car as the confrontation with Starks developed.
Newcomb doesn’t represent Simpson and so doesn’t want to release information pertinent to him. But he said Simpson’s actions that day had been upheld as justified in the departmental review.
Starks, who’s been suspended with pay, leaves the city payroll today, save any unclaimed leave time he might have accumulated.