The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Clara Turnage’s reporting today suggests the rift between Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and local law enforcement officials is growing. Little Rock Police Department Assistant Chief Hayward Finks told Turnage that during his job interview for police chief, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. repeatedly asked him, “Who would you fire first if you were hired as police chief?” Finks understood that line of questioning to be about former LRPD officer Charles Starks, who shot and killed Bradley Blackshire during a “felony stop” on Feb. 22. Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley also told the newspaper that he’d never seen a felony case file rushed more in his nearly 30 years in office. He attributed the rush to pressure from the mayor on the police department.
Turnage’s report comes a week after Finks testified at the Civil Service Commission’s appeal hearing for Starks. During an eight-hour day of testimony from several other witnesses on July 25, Finks said Scott pressured the department to finish the internal investigation of Starks in 13 days, saying such investigations usually take around 45 days. Assistant Chief Alice Fulk also testified that on the day of the shooting, Scott asked her whether Starks could be fired that day.
Both Finks and Fulk were considered by Scott as candidates for the Little Rock Police Chief position, but Keith Humphrey, the former police chief of Norman, Okla., was ultimately hired for the role in April.
In Turnage’s report, Finks said the repeated “who would you fire first” question was clearly a reference to Starks.
Finks said in an interview Wednesday that it was clear to him what the mayor was after with the repeated question.
“I told him, ‘Mr. Mayor, I can see where you’re going with this, and I think it’s inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation,'” Finks said. “When the question was asked, I knew what he meant.”
“That question in that situation was inappropriate because it gives the appearance that the mayor was going to hire someone to fire Starks,” Finks said. “The question was inappropriate for this process.”
Though Scott has said he won’t comment on the procedures of an ongoing Civil Service Commission hearing, Turnage also reports that Scott said there was “no undue rush on his part” to fire Starks. “It’s disappointing that certain things have been misleading and mischaracterized,” Scott told the newspaper.
City Attorney Tom Carpenter has specifically asked city leaders, including the mayor, not to comment on Starks’ ongoing appeal hearing, specifically the testimony of Finks and Fulk that Scott pressured the department to quickly investigate and fire Starks.
Carpenter asked this of the board of directors and the mayor in an emailed memo he sent on Friday, July 26, shortly after Ward 2 city director Ken Richardson told Fox 16 and KARK reporter Mitch McCoy that he didn’t “believe” or “accept” the testimony of Finks and Fulk, saying an “implication” or “reference” that Scott “had any hand in the firing” of Starks is “disingenuous.”
According to reporting by Lisa Hammersly for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on Monday, July 29, Richardson denied saying that he did not believe Finks’ and Fulks’ testimonies. Hammersly also reports that Richardson said he saw Carpenter’s memo after he’d already spoken with McCoy, and after seeing the televised report of his interview, he called Finks and Fulk to apologize.
The first day of Starks’ appeal hearing to the Civil Service Commission ended abruptly when Robert Newcomb, Starks’ attorney, fell down the marble stairs at City Hall and broke his wrist during a recess from the hearing. Newcomb had surgery on his wrist on Tuesday, and the continuation of Starks’ hearing is delayed indefinitely, until Newcomb has recovered enough to participate.