The city of Little Rock and one current and three former Little Rock Police officers agreed on Friday to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by the black officers in 2018. The plaintiffs were Sgt. Willie Davis and three officers who are now retired: former Lt. Earnest Whitten, former Lt. Johnny Gilbert Jr. and former Capt. Tonya Washington. Whitten is now a chief deputy at the Pulaski County Sheriff’s office. Gilbert was forced into medical retirement after he was the victim of a hit and run in 2017.
The complaint alleged racist and “uneven” practices in hiring, discipline and promotions. It included the officers raising warnings about the racist pasts of several white officers, including former officer Josh Hastings, who shot and killed 15-year-old Bobby Moore and was later charged with manslaughter. The plaintiffs were ignored or punished for raising the issues, according to the lawsuit.
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Under the settlement, the city will pay the plaintiffs $200,000.
Attorney Mike Laux, who represented the officers, said they were very happy with the settlement.
“It was never about money about these officers,” he said. “It was about the recognition of what they went through. They got that with the settlement.”
The state of play in the city has changed since the lawsuit was filed. Police Chief Kenton Buckner, who was widely unpopular among black officers, left to take the same job in Syracuse. The city elected its first black mayor, Frank Scott.
“We are so thankful for Mayor Scott for facilitating the possibility of this settlement,” Laux said. “The clients really have no interest in dredging up this ugliness for this new admin that had nothing to do with it.”
Laux said he believed that Buckner’s replacement, LRPD Chief Keith Humphrey also helped make the settlement happen.
“We know that he still definitely has his work cut out for him, but we remain hopeful about his trajectory. But we respect the change he’s trying to bring to the LRPD even if it comes at a pace that’s slower than he’d hoped.”
I’ve asked the city for comment on the settlement.
Laux said that he tried to negotiate a change in the LRPD discipline process, which he said is entirely subjective. But the city didn’t bite. He wanted the city to adopt a discipline matrix, an increasingly common, more objective standard for applying internal discipline in police departments.
Sgt. Derrick Threadgill, an original plaintiff, dropped out of the suit last year. Another plaintiff, former officer Jackie Parker was not a party to the settlement. Laux said he’s prepared to try that case in May.