In an email sent to the Little Rock board of directors and Mayor Frank Scott Jr. on Friday, City Attorney Tom Carpenter urges city leaders, “in the strongest possible terms,” not to comment on the ongoing appeal hearing for former Little Rock Police Department officer Charles Starks, which began with eight hours of testimony on Thursday. Starks is seeking to be reinstated as an officer with the department after he was fired by Police Chief Keith Humphrey in May.
Carpenter asked that directors specifically not comment on the testimony of LRPD Assistant Chiefs Alice Fulk and Hayward Finks, who both said Scott pressured the police department to finish its internal investigation of Starks — who shot and killed Bradley Blackshire, 30, during a “felony stop” on Feb. 22 — in 13 days, which Finks said is less than half the time normally allotted for such investigations.
“The City, the LRPD, and Mr. Starks have a right to a full and fair appellate trial on the action by Chief Humphrey,” Carpenter writes. “Comments by elected members of the Board of Directors only serve to challenge such fairness. More to the point, and using a military analogy, it is improper ‘command influence’ that cannot be tolerated.”
Carpenter defines “command influence” as something that occurs when “someone in a leadership position over a fact finder attempts to influence the decision of the fact finder.” The fact finder, in this case, is the Civil Service Commission.
“It is so serious, that charges and specifications against an individual can be dismissed,” Carpenter explains.
“As the elected government officials for the City, who have a say in the appointment of the members of the Civil Service Commission, there is a risk of such undue influence when comments are made about evidentiary decisions, the reliability of testimony, the credibility of witnesses, or the appropriateness of a decision,” Carpenter emphasizes. “Even how a hearing is being run is a taboo subject.”
Starks’ appeal hearing with the Civil Service Commission ended abruptly on Thursday when his attorney, Robert Newcomb, fell down the stairs at City Hall during a recess from the hearing. The continuation of the hearing has been delayed indefinitely as a result.