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story.lead_photo.caption Former Little Rock police officer Charles Starks (left) confers with his attorney, Robert Newcomb, during the Little Rock Civil Service Commission hearing of Starks’ appeal of his firing. Newcomb said after the commission upheld the firing that Starks will file another appeal, this time with the Pulaski County Circuit Court. ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)

A former Little Rock police officer is scheduled to appeal his firing Dec. 10 in Pulaski County Circuit Court, an attorney on the case said.

Charles Starks, who was fired from the Police Department on May 6 after he fatally shot Little Rock resident Bradley Blackshire on Feb. 22, will contest that firing in Circuit Judge Tim Fox's courtroom at 9 a.m., Starks' attorney Robert Newcomb said.

The appeal will be Starks' second, after Little Rock's Civil Service Commission voted Sept. 4 to uphold his termination.

Starks was fired less than three months after he shot and killed the 30-year-old Blackshire during a confrontation in a parking lot at 7305 Kanis Road near South Rodney Parham Road. Prosecutors declined to charge Starks in the shooting, but the city opted to terminate his employment.

Each of the four officers in Starks' chain of command recommended that he keep his job, but Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey, who has the final say in personnel decisions, fired him.

Since Starks' appeal before the Civil Service Commission, a second attorney has joined his team. Lance J. LoRusso, general counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police and a former police officer, was added as an attorney for Starks on Nov. 14, according to court records.

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LoRusso has written a handful of books, including two on officer-involved shootings, and has represented numerous police officers in auto accidents, shootings and lawsuits.

"The national FOP saw the stories about what's happening in Little Rock, and Lance called me and said, 'Can I help?'" Newcomb said. "He's licensed in Arkansas, so of course we appreciate it."

Khayyam M. Eddings of Friday, Eldredge & Clark LLC -- the law firm that represented the Police Department during Starks' Civil Service Commission hearings -- confirmed in a previous interview that he and Michael Moore would continue representing the city.

Neither Eddings nor Moore could be reached for comment Friday.

On Oct. 2, the city provided to Fox a transcript of the nearly 15 hours of testimony from the Civil Service Commission hearings, according to court records.

Fox will review the case so far -- a file with nearly 1,000 pages -- and will hear additional testimony during the Dec. 10 hearing. Newcomb said the conclusions of the Civil Service Commission will not influence Fox's decision, as the case is considered "like new" when it moves to circuit court.

Newcomb requested the hearing before Fox because he intends to introduce new evidence, such as interviews from other police officers who had interacted with Blackshire and the autopsy reports from the investigative file.

He said he also plans to re-interview witnesses who were not allowed to express opinions in the Civil Service Commission hearings, and he may call an expert witness to speak on the effects of drugs on the mind during high-stress situations.

The hearing will likely be Starks' last chance to reverse his firing, as such cases moving to the higher appeals court are rare, Newcomb said.

After the hearing and deliberation, Fox will decide two things: whether Starks violated policy and, if so, whether the punishment was appropriate.

A May 6 letter that Humphrey addressed to Starks said he was fired for violating a department order that an officer must not voluntarily step in front of a moving vehicle in a manner that would cause a deadly force incident.

During the February traffic stop, Starks crossed in front of the stolen Nissan that Blackshire was driving, in what Starks said during testimony was an attempt to get back to his patrol car. Blackshire drove the vehicle forward, striking Starks twice and injuring the officer's knee.

Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley cleared Starks of criminal charges in an April 19 letter that said the officer had been justified in the shooting because there was a threat of serious injury or death from the moving vehicle.

The Little Rock Police Department's General Order 303 Section II E 2 says, "Officers will not voluntarily place themselves in a position in front of an oncoming vehicle where deadly force is the probable outcome. When confronted by an oncoming vehicle, officers will move out of its path, if possible, rather than fire at the vehicle."

Some witnesses during the Civil Service Commission hearings said Starks caused unnecessary danger to himself when he crossed in front of the vehicle. Others said Starks had done nothing wrong and that there was no training that would have prepared the officer for the situation.

The Civil Service Commission on Sept. 4 voted unanimously that Starks had violated department policy, but one of the seven commissioners, Jeff Hildebrand, voted against upholding the officer's termination.

Starks is also facing a federal lawsuit from Blackshire's family, which is set to go to trial in October 2020, according to court records. The complaint alleges federal civil-rights violations of excessive deadly force and failure to provide medical care, as well as violations of the Arkansas Civil Rights Act.

Photo by Staton Breidenthal
Charles Starks

Metro on 11/25/2019

Print Headline: Appeal set for Little Rock officer fired after fatally shooting motorist


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