Separate TV news reports last night indicate more trouble is brewing for Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey, whose primary and most important defender to date remains the man who hired him, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr.
The harshest hit came last night from our news content partner KARK.
Susan El-Khoury reported that Humphrey, hired a little more than a year ago, had pushed for the hiring of a friend, Karen Hunter, for an $80,000-a-year job. The status of her application to be administrative services manager overseeing an $80 million budget is unclear (however it apparently has been filled yet and a spokesman for the chief says he hasn’t intervened in the process, which is being handled by a city committee). The article reports that Hunter shouldn’t have been considered for the job because her application contained inaccurate information. She said she had a valid driver’s license, but court records indicate she did not. The report also said the application identified Hunter as a college vice president when she’s assistant to a vice president at Philander Smith. And she didn’t disclose a pending lawsuit for unpaid credit card bills (a circumstance with which Chief Humphrey is familiar from his time in Oklahoma.)
KARK got comments from two city directors. Director Ken Richardson said he supported the chief. Director Lance Hines said the department needed new leadership, but he added: “Ideally his resignation would be wonderful but I don’t know because it doesn’t look like, the Mayor’s not going to fire him from what the Mayor’s told me.”
Humphrey has been named in three lawsuits by police employees, including two assistant chiefs. Two concern job retaliation over disagreements with the chief on his handling of the firing of an officer who killed a driver in a stop for a suspected car theft. Another says he violated the Freedom of Information Act in refusing to provide personnel records (though he argues he’s not the keeper of those records, city human resources department is. The officers denied records say they’d reflect badly on the chief’s investigation of them.
The Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police has issued a statement critical of the chief, but the Black Police Officers Association has defended his ability to perform the job as he sees fit. It joins another local defender, retired Judge Marion Humphrey, in seeing complaints against the chief as sour grapes by the two assistant chiefs passed over for the top job and also racially motivated. Chief Humphrey is black. Three of the officers suing him are also black, however.
Now on to the second report. That came from KATV and reporter Zack Briggs:
It quoted Hines and another city director, Capi Peck, on lack of confidence in the chief.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence in the chief. Okay, crucify me, whatever. I don’t,” Peck said during a Facebook live hosted on LifeQuest’s page, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering adults post-retirement. LifeQuest posted a disclaimer stating Peck’s views don’t reflect the organization’s views.
“I for one on the board, are not confident that our police chief can continue to lead our department,” said Hines in an interview with Doc Washburn on Newsradio 102.9 KARN-FM.
Hines said he was concerned about the $30,000 in debts cited in lawsuits in Oklahoma. Humphrey has not provided specific details but has suggested others were responsible. Hines said he’d been told Humphrey had disclosed the issue before his hiring, but he said police officers should be held to a higher standard.
Peck said she was concerned with the lawsuits and criticism on the force from rank-and-file officers.
And what does the mayor think? KATV reported:
Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s spokesperson provided an emailed statement in response to the directors’ opinions about Chief Humphrey: “While Mayor Scott values the opinions of City Directors, as chief executive of Little Rock he cannot publicly comment on personnel matters, pending litigation, or internal reviews connected to such matters,” said Stephanie Jackson, spokesperson for Mayor Frank Scott Jr.
Hiding behind the excuse of pending litigation is not transparency, though it’s a familiar tactic of the city of Little Rock. The chief should answer questions about the Oklahoma debts. Legitimate circumstances — a debt for a necessary expense for a relative who hadn’t delivered on a promise to repay, let us conjecture — might exist. Give the grieving officers their own personnel files, even if they might reflect on the chief.
The mayor and chief also would do well to reveal if an administrative officer had been hired at the police department and they should provide more background on the applicants and an answer to KARK’s questions about the information one of them provided.
A thorough accounting is in order of expansion of administrative expenditures by new leaders at both city hall and the police department (just this week Humphrey announced an expansion in his PR apparatus as the mayor did when he took office).
Other city directors can’t dodge accountability. This isn’t just about the mayor’s control of the chief’s position. The entire city is potentially on the hook for pending lawsuits. If undue preference is being extended in one city department, it reflects on all city departments. Let’s clear the air.