A settlement is being discussed in the lawsuit filed by the estate of Bradley Blackshire, killed by then-Little Rock Police Officer Charles Starks when Blackshire tried to drive away from a traffic stop.
I’ve been unable to get comment from city officials and attorneys, but court records indicate settlement talks are underway and federal Judge Price Marshall delayed the start of the trial until April 4, 2022, because of an extension requested on account of the settlement talks.
The suit is by Britney Walls as administratrix of Blackshire’s estate. It names Starks, the city of Little Rock and Officer Michael Simpson, who drove into the car Starks was attempting to stop in February 2019 because it was reported stolen. Starks was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley and a chain of police supervisors said Starks was justified in shooting Blackshire after he tried to slowly drive away and bumped Starks in the process. Starks jumped in front of the car and fired multiple times, killing Blackshire. Police Chief Keith Humphrey overrode other officers and fired Starks. Simpson’s actions that day were upheld in an administrative review. Starks successfully sued to overturn his firing, then resigned from the department. The city’s appeal of his reinstatement remains active.
Attorneys for Blackshire’s estate asked for a trial extension on June 29. They said attorneys for the city and Simpson, but not Starks, had been in settlement discussions and the city had asked to include Starks for “possible resolution of the entire matter.”
The motion continued:
Due to the complexity of the case and the requirement to secure approval by a public body, the settlement discussions have necessarily moved at a slower pace than the parties would have preferred. However, the parties have continued to work in good faith toward a mutually agreeable resolution of the case.
Robert Newcomb, attorney for Starks, objected to the trial delay on June 30. He said his client wants a ruling on a motion for summary judgment. He said he wasn’t contacted about settlement discussions until June 28 and then only to ask if Newcomb was available for a July 6 telephone conference.
No further filings provide more information on subsequent talks. But the judge granted the trial delay July 2 for “good cause,” referring to the motion mentioning settlement discussions. He set a deadline of Oct. 18 for motions for summary judgment and a status report on settlement discussions.
I checked the record today and tried to reach attorneys because of reports of an agreement with at least the city, a settlement that would divide a rumored seven-figure payment between the city (thus city board approval would be needed) and the city’s insurance. Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has backed the police chief’s decision to fire Starks.
UPDATE: I heard from Robert Newcomb who said he had not been part of discussions of a financial settlement with the Blackshire family. He commented: “I personally do not think the city should spend taxpayer money on settling that case.” He said had discussed a “non-economic” settlement related to Starks, but it was conditioned on the Blackshire family and city settling.