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Reinstated officer seeks penalties for Little Rock mayor, chief

by John Lynch, Tony Holt | January 18, 2020 at 9:12 a.m.
Charles Starks confers with his attorney, Robert Newcomb, during a hearing in September on his firing from the Little Rock Police Department. Starks, who was reinstated after a lawsuit, is being deliberately stigmatized by Mayor Frank Scott and Police Chief Keith Humphrey, his legal team said Friday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Police Chief Keith Humphrey should be held in contempt of court for denying reinstated officer Charles Starks his gun and badge, his lawyers said Friday.

Starks' lawyers said in a motion that Starks is being deliberately stigmatized by the mayor and the police chief in a move that not only violates the court order overturning Starks' firing but also financially penalizes Starks by preventing him from taking off-duty law enforcement work, which can add as much as $20,000 annually to his income.

Scott and Humphrey also should be fined $500 each, Starks' attorney, Robert Newcomb, stated. A contempt finding also could result in jail time.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox will hear arguments at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Starks and the city are already at odds over whether Starks' legal team should be paid for representing him in his successful appeal to circuit court. Starks' legal fees and expenses had reached $29,952 as of Wednesday, court filings show. The amount does not include what the city owes Starks in back pay after his nearly 8½ months out of work.

Fox, who has the final decision on whether the lawyers should be compensated, has given the sides until the end of next week to try to mediate a settlement before the judge decides for them. Fox has further ordered Starks to attend the mediation, as must either the mayor or City Manager Bruce Moore.

Starks was fired by Humphrey for violating police procedure by stepping in front of a moving car when he shot and killed a suspected car thief nearly 10 months ago. Starks shot Bradley Blackshire, 30, after the car Blackshire was driving clipped Starks during a February confrontation in Little Rock.

Starks appealed his firing to court and Fox reinstated him, reducing the punishment to a 30-day unpaid suspension and cutting Starks' wages to rookie pay. Entry-level patrol officers earn $43,743 a year, according to the city website. Starks has been on the force about six years.

The city is appealing Fox's ruling to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

Attorney Mike Moore, representing the city, is preparing a response to the contempt accusations but said the city is complying with Fox's orders.

"His only complaint was that he wasn't issued a gun," Moore said Friday. "We don't believe the court's order was to give him a city-issued gun."

In his Jan. 10 order setting the Thursday deadline to take Starks back, the judge stated that he was not telling the police force what to do with Starks, just that it had to resume paying him, plus compensate him for his lost wages.

"[Police] have an entire panoply of administrative options available, including but not limited to placing Officer Starks on paid leave ... assigning Officer Starks to desk or administrative duty, placement of Officer Starks into patrol rotation and/or assigning Officer Starks any other duties and functions that are within the parameters established by the Little Rock Police Department for its officers," the judge wrote.

Starks is getting paid but he was relieved of duty upon his return to work Thursday, which means he does not get a gun, a badge or police identification. Relieved of duty is reserved for officers under investigation that could result in "severe" disciplinary action, his lawyers wrote in the four-page contempt motion.

"The status ... stigmatizes him since he is not a fully reinstated law enforcement officer in that status," the motion states.

Starks also would not be able to pursue off-duty police work on administrative leave, but that status would allow him to retain his law enforcement credentials and weapon while barring him from taking any kind of official action except under exceptional circumstances.

"In his current status, [Starks] cannot carry a weapon as a law enforcement officer or carry his badge or credentials," the complaint states. "[Starks] would be unable to protect the citizens of Arkansas, his family or himself in the event of an emergency, and cannot make an arrest."

The amount of Starks' lost wages has not been disclosed, but whatever he is personally owed by the city would be in addition to the legal fees and expenses claimed by Newcomb and co-counsel Lance LoRusso of Atlanta.

In court filings, Starks' attorneys report their expenses are $3,552, with most of that -- $3,265 -- paying for the transcript of the Civil Service hearing that affirmed the original firing decision.

They report their combined legal fees are $26,400, representing $250 per work hour. Newcomb stated he worked 44.1 hours on the appeal, while LoRusso worked 61.5 hours.

The billing represents only the work Starks' legal team has done on the circuit-court appeal from Oct. 1 through Wednesday, court filings show.

Moore and Khayyam Eddings, lawyers with the Friday, Eldredge & Clark firm who represent the city, have been paid about $58,000 for the entire appeal, according to the Starks pleadings.

A Section on 01/18/2020


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