TONIGHT: Several Little Rock Police officers are suing the city over an investigation into alleged misconduct by their boss. I’ll have an update on @KARK4News after the Olympics #Working4You https://t.co/vfL7HVrrPv
— Susan El Khoury (@SusanElKhoury) July 24, 2021
The boiling pot of discord within the Little Rock Police Department got a little hotter yesterday with a freedom of information lawsuit by four police officers seeking interviews given by officers about Humphrey’s handling of personnel matters.
The officers seek material compiled in a review of department practices by Loretta Cochran, a member of the faculty at Arkansas Tech under contract with the city. At issue is favoritism by Humphrey in transfers and promotions.
Cochran’s report has been completed. The city is resisting its release. (It even told me in response to my first general FOI for it early last week that it had no records responsive to my request. This, despite the fact that an attorney general’s opinion issued to the city July 14 acknowledged the report had been completed and the city was fighting its release. I’ve received no substantive response to multiple FOI inquiries or even the most cursory of documents.)
The attorney general gave a mixed response on the city’s bid to shield its records. Perhaps some of the report could be viewed as an evaluation of Humphrey and thus exempt. Perhaps not. A fact-finder (the court now) will have to decide. A court now will.
There’s a wide belief, among city board members and others, that the report is critical of Humphrey’s management.
The city stonewalled me all week on questions (and other media, too, I gather from lack of reporting). It was suggested to me at one point, dishonestly, that the Cochran report wasn’t completed. It was suggested at another point that the city would claim exemption because the review relates to matters under litigation — the various lawsuits filed against and by Humphrey. Arkansas Supreme Court precedent dating back decades says pending litigation doesn’t exempt public information from release.
The lawsuit, filed by Robert Newcomb for Rusty Rothwell, Kirk McCauley, David Mattox and John Michael Trent, says the city has not released documents that even the attorney general’s opinion suggests may be released:
The Court should Order the Defendant to submit the documents that they claim are exempt to the Court for in chambers review and determination whether they are being properly withheld or any classification of no misconduct is reasonable. Without judicial review of the evaluations of the Plaintiffs and anyone else by the Investigator, Dr. Loretta Cochran, allows the Defendant, The City of Little Rock to avoid the purpose of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act for the public to know about the conduct of its employees.
The claim is that this is an evaluation of Chief Keith Humphrey who is according to The City of Little Rock, the sole and final policy maker for the Little Rock Police Department other than for the issue of deadly force, may be hiding incompetence or worse from public inspection.
Based upon the Opinion Granted to The City of Little Rock by Arkansas Attorney General, Leslie Rutledge, the documents that have not been provided clearly are not exempt.
Accusations of favoritism against Humphrey go beyond transfers and promotions. Another issue is discipline.
In June, for example, Assistant Chief Hayward Finks, who is among those suing Humphrey and in turn is being sued by Humphrey, detailed in a memo his belief that the chief made exceptions for favored employees in disciplinary proceedings. In one case Humphrey didn’t immediately relieve an officer from duty who was under criminal investigation in another city for firing a gun while drunk, though he’d done so in the cases of other officers, including two who are plaintiffs in this suit. Finks detailed other perceived favoritism by Humphrey and said he had not included Finks as he should have in assignment decisions. Collectively, the actions illustrate a “hostile and retaliatory working environment that is intentionally being created by Chief Humphrey,” Finks wrote.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s hiring of Humphrey in chief in 2019 has brought ceaseless turmoil but the mayor has stood resolutely behind him. Humphrey puts the controversy down to police union resistance to a change agent and his defenders suggest racism on the part of white officers is a factor. But he lost a lawsuit over his firing of a police officer who killed a suspect over recommendations of others in the chain of command; he’s been dogged by reports about personal finances and other issues, and, most recently, the city has had a rise in violent crimes. Humphrey is rarely accessible to reporters.
More police turmoil isn’t good public relations as the city embarks on a sales tax campaign.
Humphrey is likely safe through the September election. But if Newcomb’s suit forces out the Cochran report and it’s as critical of Humphrey’s management as rumors suggest, the mayor may be forced to act.
Newcomb did receive one piece of information from the city that was produced by Cochran, a report on transfers broken down by race and sex.