OBJECTION RAISED: City Attorney Tom Carpenter (left) with City Manager Bruce Moore have been at the center of a debate over a police shooting lawsuit. Brian Chilson

The controversy surrounding a proposed settlement of a lawsuit against the city of Little Rock over the shooting death of Bradley Blackshire spilled into public view at Tuesday’s 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 last week.

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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. and City Manager Bruce Moore have said that they believe the city board has designated Moore a spending authority up to $50,000.

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On Oct. 12, the day after the Times broke the news on the details of the settlement, City Attorney Tom Carpenter formally objected to the settlement in a letter to board members, saying it needed board approval because Moore’s spending authority only extended to a competitive bid process, and that it opened the city up to future legal jeopardy by admitting to deficiency in lethal force training.

Early in the case, Carpenter had determined that his office had a conflict in representing the city, so the city turned to the Arkansas Municipal League, who in turn hired the Rogers-based Kendall Law Firm to represent the city.

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Also on Oct. 12, Carpenter wrote a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Price Marshall, who is presiding over the Blackshire lawsuit, asserting that the settlement wouldn’t be final until the board approval.

Last week, the board groused about being left out of the process and Carpenter elaborated on the points he’d made in writing.

At Tuesday’s meeting, lawyers with the Kendall firm and the Municipal League took questions from the board for almost an hour.

Attorney Susan Kendall told the board that the case was unusual because lawyers for the plaintiffs, in the discovery process, sought to go back 10 years for information about Little Rock Police training and use of force and Judge Marshall indicated he was going to allow that wide scope. An initial attempt at mediation was abandoned after the lawyers representing the city of Little Rock discovered that the Blackshire family was seeking $5 million in damages. Further negotiations led to the $300,000 figure and three non-monetary items: the city agrees to produce a video recording of a member of the Blackshire family describing how the death of Bradley Blackshire has impacted their family, the city will provide information about affordable mental health counseling to the families of people killed in police shootings and the LRPD will provide additional training on use of force and de-escalation tactics.

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Kendall emphasized that the settlement doesn’t admit liability from the city and that settlement agreements aren’t admissible in court, thanks in part to precedent established in another high profile case involving a Little Rock police shooting, Perkins vs. City of Little Rock, a lawsuit brought in the wake of the shooting death of 15-year-old Bobby Moore by former LRPD officer Josh Hastings.

“We were very clear in keeping Mr. Carpenter in the loop, particularly when we reached the point when the settlement was possible,” Kendall said.

Director BJ Wyrick wanted to know how much the non-monetary items would cost the city. Producing a video costs something, right? she asked. No more than $500, Kendall said. The city asked the Municipal League to increase its contribution by $500 to accommodate that, she said.

Wyrick also pressed for more details on Carpenter’s involvement. Municipal League attorney Bill Mann, who assisted on the case, said the attorneys provided Carpenter with copies of depositions and had several meetings with him, including the day before the city extended the offer to plaintiffs of $300,000. “It’s my understanding that information got to Tom,” Mann said.

At-Large Director Dean Kumpuris said he wasn’t concerned with the disagreement over Moore’s spending authority, but rather was upset that Carpenter and the board weren’t more in the loop. The more he talked, the more animated he got, saying at various points that he felt disrespected and later that the lawyers’ behavior was unconscionable.

Kendall and Mann and other lawyers pushed back on the assertion that Carpenter was left out or that there was a conspiracy to keep Carpenter or the board in the dark.

“At no time did anyone from the city tell us not to communicate with Tom or members of the board,” Kendall said.

At-Large Director Joan Adcock and Director Doris Wright echoed what Kumpuris described as standard procedure every time the city agreed to a settlement: Carpenter would call and provide them with the details and then it was up to them if they wanted to object. Mayor Scott later asked Municipal League attorney John Wilkerson if such an arrangement would be in violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Wikerson said he wasn’t a judge, but that he wouldn’t advise his clients to take that route for fear of an FOIA lawsuit.

Director Capi Peck asked Moore and Carpenter to weigh in.

Moore said he didn’t think he’d done anything out of the ordinary. He said the real issue was Carpenter’s conflict, which brought in outside counsel. “I follow policy and procedures to the letter,” Moore said. He praised the work of the Municipal League.

Carpenter reiterated that he didn’t find about the non-monetary portion of the settlement until he read about it in court documents last week.

Unlike past settlements in use of force cases where the police department determined the officer behaved appropriately, in this case the LRPD fired Starks for violating policy, Carpenter said. Nothing Starks did seems to be unconstitutional, he said.

This is the only case where I kept hearing about the impact of the George Floyd case and its impact on police-related lawsuits in Arkansas and around the country, Carpenter said. But he said that shouldn’t have had a bearing on this lawsuit and the city of Little Rock’s policies and how it executes them. Carpenter agreed that the settlement couldn’t be brought in future litigation, but said, “If we’re only worried about what’s going to show up in trial, I don’t understand why George Floyd was ever discussed in this case.” He also pointed out that the total settlement amount is what will stick in the public’s mind, not the $49,500 Little Rock will contribute.

Carpenter elaborated on his conflict. After Starks fatally shot Blackshire, several police supervisors recommended that he should remain on the force, but Police Chief Keith Humphrey overruled them and fired him. 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 he was wary of having to deal with that dissension among the chain of command in a courtroom.

“I don’t care what you do with this case,” he said. “I care that you know what you’re doing.”

It’s unclear tonight the status of the settlement. It was approved by Circuit Judge Casey Tucker Tuesday afternoon, a fact overlooked by the attorneys and pointed out late in the meeting by Vice Mayor Lance Hines, but it may still require approval by Judge Marshall.

I’ll update in the morning.