Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Friday refused the city of Little Rock’s request to delay putting Charles Starks back to work as a police officer while it appeals his ruling overturning Starks’ firing.
Police Chief Keith Humphrey fired Starks, over contrary opinions from four other officers in the line of command, for violating policies in the course of a traffic stop in February that ended with the fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire. Blackshire was driving a stolen car and hit Bradley with the vehicle as he slowly kept driving despite Starks’ order that he stop.
Fox said the firing, upheld by the Civil Service Commission, was too severe. He ordered a 30-day suspension and reduction of pay. Starks was cleared of criminal liability by Prosecutor Larry Jegley.
In his ruling Friday, Fox said court precedent is clear that employees who’ve won such decisions must be put back to work. Starks’ attorney, Robert Newcomb, has predicted the city will have difficulty overturning the case, in which the judge made a new review of the facts of the case.
Fox noted the city has options in putting Starks back on the payroll and restoring his health and other benefits, including putting him on administrative leave without pay or assigning him to desk or administrative duty rather than returning to patrol. Newcomb had told me earlier he doubted the city would put Starks back on patrol.
Fox said the appeal would, of course, be up to the Court of Appeals and that there might be “legitimate political or trial strategy reason” for the city to pursue an appeal. For one thing, a civil lawsuit is pending from Blackshire’s family. But the judge observed:
Based on the record and the strict appellate standard of review, it is the court’s opinion that in a range from “wholly without merit” to “a legitimate basis for an appeal exists,” an appeal of this matter is very close to the “wholly without merit” end of the range.
Here’s the Fox ruling.