A tentative settlement of a lawsuit against the city of Little Rock over the shooting death of Bradley Blackshire inspired heated discussions at Wednesday’s special Little Rock Board of Directors meeting.
The proposed settlement over the shooting death of Blackshire by former Little Rock Police Officer Charles Starks provides for a $300,000 payment in the case brought by Blackshire’s estate, and includes training for police and outreach to families of people killed by police, the Arkansas Blog first reported earlier this week.
Under the terms, the city of Little Rock would pay $49,500 and the Arkansas Municipal League, from which the city buys insurance coverage, would pay $250,500.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. has maintained that City Manager Bruce Moore had the authority to authorize payments up to $50,000 without board approval. Yesterday, City Attorney Tom Carpenter formally objected to the settlement in a letter to board members, saying it needed board approval and that it opened the city up to future legal jeopardy by admitting to deficiency in lethal force training.
Scott began Wednesday’s meeting by asking Moore to explain his understanding of his spending authority and how legal settlements have worked in the past. Moore said he’s always operated as if he has spending authority up to $50,000. As far as settlements go, he said he usually works closely with the city attorney, who has in the past let the board know about proposed agreements. But Moore described this settlement as unique because Carpenter decided that his office had conflicts and that the city would best be represented by the Arkansas Municipal League.
Vice Mayor Lance Hines then spoke up.
“I object to any of this settlement, and especially after our city attorney got ahold of it to see some extra financial ramifications that were put on it,” he said. “The facts are this board has never been consulted on this settlement.”
Scott asked Moore if the board had ever voted on a settlement in the past.
Moore again stressed that this was a unique case, but said that to his memory the board had never voted on a particular settlement.
Director Doris Wright said that, in the past, when a settlement was reached, Carpenter would reach out to each director to tell them the details.
As perhaps a sign of the growing gulf between Scott and Carpenter, Scott in response asked Moore to restate that Carpenter had a conflict and didn’t participate in the settlement. Moore deferred to Carpenter.
The city attorney said he was out of the loop because “there was evidently a decision not to let us know any more about it.”
The city was initially handling the case, but during the course of the preparation for it, he said his office recognized “the nature of the cross examination we would have to do and the potential damage to the department in order to be successful in this lawsuit.” He referenced the disagreement in the police department over how to handle Starks after the shooting. Several police supervisors said he shouldn’t be fired, but Police Chief Keith Humphrey, a Scott appointee, overrode them and fired Starks.
Starks’ firing was upheld by the Civil Service Commission. He sued and the firing was overturned and he was reinstated, but later resigned from the force, citing bad treatment.
Carpenter said that, at that point, he recommended getting the Arkansas Municipal League involved. But he expected to still be kept abreast of the case’s progress.
He said he only learned last Thursday that the settlement had been reached. He said it had long been his practice to call and notify board members of the terms of proposed settlements. If none objected, the case would be settled. He also said it wasn’t true the board was never contacted if the settlement amount was under $50,000.
“I don’t know of any case in the last 30-plus years where there has been a death caused by an officer in deadly force where the board has been left out of the discussion,” Carpenter said.
At-Large Director Joan Adcock, the longest tenured board member, said her understanding of the process squared with Carpenter’s.
Director BJ Wyrick asked for clarity over whether Moore had the authority to spend $50,000 for anything or just for items that would normally receive competitive bids.
At-Large Director Antwan Phillips responded that he believed, as a policy making board that employs Moore, it was up to the members to decide.
“The question is, are we in charge? At-Large Director Dean Kumpuris asked. “If we’re not in charge we may as well go on home.” He said he’d been in the dark about the proposed settlement until a reporter called him.
Scott promised that John Wilkerson, general counsel for the Arkansas Municipal League, would appear before the board at its next meeting, 6 p.m. Tuesday. It’ll be new Ward 1 Director Virgil Miller’s first meeting.