A settlement has been reached in the lawsuit brought by the family of Bradley Blackshire, killed by Little Rock Police Officer Charles Starks during a traffic stop.
Trial had been scheduled in April, but the city notified the federal court informally Thursday that the settlement had been reached. Judge Price Marshall said the complaint would be dismissed, with a status report due Nov. 12. A filing today by plaintiffs indicated they do not want the claim dismissed until a state court has approved probable of Blackshire’s estate.
Terms were not released. In a news release issued later Friday, attorneys for the Blackshire family said the settlement was a step forward in the process to reform the Little Rock Police Department.
The Arkansas Blog reported in July that settlement discussions were underway.
The suit is by Britney Walls, Blackshire’s sister, 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 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 though recent Supreme Court intermediate rulings have sided with the city.
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.”
In cases such as these, the government is typically the source of money for the settlement, whether through its funds or insurance coverage. No terms are on file as yet and no filings in Blackshire’s probate case reveal details. The most recent filings in the probate case came at the end of September, when five heirs of the estate, including his mother, filed notices of consent to waive a hearing on the inventory and accounting of assets as well as consent to the distribution of assets as petitioned by the estate’s representative. That seems to anticipate the settlement.
In this case, for example, the city and the Arkansas Municipal League insurance program could share the cost. The city can’t agree to pay more than $50,000 without City Board approval, however. And it’s possible any expenditure would need board approval. That could be an issue with members divided over the chief’s leadership and opposed to settling the case.
Robert Newcomb, Starks’ attorney, said the tentative settlement requires no payments by Starks. He would agree to participate in what Newcomb called a “restorative justice program” in which trained people talk to Starks and the Blackshire family separately and sometimes encourage a joint meeting of the participants.
Shakur said there’s no provision for “restorative justice” in his settlement with Little Rock. He said the settlement includes monetary and non-monetary provisions but he wasn’t prepared to discuss them yet.
He said the Blackshire family would view this outcome as “just the beginning” of efforts to bring justice to Little Rock police department practices.
He said he believed the settlement was helped in part by work of their expert on police practices, Seth Stoughton, who testified for the prosecution in the George Floyd murder case. Shakur said Stoughton had found a pattern in the department of “dangerously poor tactics” that increased the likelihood an officer would use deadly force. He said Starks’ decisions the day of the shooting were inconsistent with good police practice, from the initial stop to stepping in front of Blackshire’s moving car and then firing multiple times. Had he used “generally accepted” practices, the consultant reportedly found, Blackshire wouldn’t have been killed.
A news release from the Blackshire family lawyers elaborated:
Today, plaintiffs represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,
Inc. (LDF), co-counsel Loevy & Loevy, and the Initiative for a Just Society reached a
settlement – subject to the approval by the probate court – with the city of Little Rock,
Arkansas for monetary and non-monetary relief. This lawsuit was filed in June 2019 on
behalf of the family of Bradley Blackshire, a Black man who was repeatedly shot and killed by former Little Rock Police Department (LRPD) Officer Charles Starks. The suit brought forth several claims, including counts of excessive force, failure to provide medical attention, and wrongful death.
The LRPD’s history is checkered by unconscionable violence and police misconduct
pervasive problems that were again readily apparent in Blackshire’s case. For too long,
the city of Little Rock has maintained policies and practices that allow LRPD officers to engage in deadly force with little to no accountability.
“Bradley Blackshire should be alive,” said Practitioner-in-Residence at the Initiative for a Just Society Omavi Shukur. “Former Little Rock Police Department Officer Starks’ fatal actions — and the municipal policies and practices that precipitated them — have caused unspeakable grief, which has only been exacerbated by the machinations of a callous legal process. Litigation alone has proven to be inept at preserving Black life and providing justice to communities being ravaged by state-sanctioned terror. The family believes that true justice lies outside of the current legal system and intends to continue to pursue justice for Bradley well into the future.”
“The Blackshire family have lost a son, brother, father, and deeply loved family member. We cannot ever forget that. This settlement is an important step forward; it includes small steps to begin the process of reform within the Little Rock Police Department. Those steps are just the beginning, however, as we work to eradicate a culture of violence in policing,” said attorney David B. Owens.
“Bradley Blackshire’s fatal shooting is the result of the systemic police violence that
unjustly kills Black people not only in Little Rock, Arkansas, but across the country,” said LDF Assistant Counsel Lauren Johnson. “Today’s settlement is an important point of departure for a locality that too often offers no relief to victims of police violence and their families. Of course, no compensation will ever be sufficient to account for the tragic and senseless taking of Mr. Blackshire’s life. A significant transformation of the Little Rock Police Department is critical to ensuring that more Black lives are not taken by the Department in the future.”
Update: Late today the city issued a statement:
The City of Little Rock has reached an agreement in Walls v. City of Little Rock, subject to the Probate Court’s authorization. The City will have no further comment until the final agreement is signed by all parties and accepted by the Court.