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Little Rock police chief's texts critical of units' leaders

by Joseph Flaherty | November 28, 2020 at 9:23 a.m.
Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey answer questions during a press conference Wednesday June 3, 2020 in downtown Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey earlier this year criticized subordinates in harsh terms during a text message exchange with then-Assistant Chief Alice Fulk, describing two of the department's three patrol division captains as lazy, disorganized and overwhelmed.

Humphrey questioned the abilities of the captains in charge of the department's northwest and southwest patrol divisions, telling Fulk he was unimpressed.

In messages March 31, Humphrey called Capt. Max Spriggs of the Southwest Patrol Division "lazy and a dumper."

Humphrey described Capt. Michael "Joe" Miller of the Northwest Patrol Division as seemingly "overwhelmed," and questioned whether Miller was committed to the patrol division. "Very unorganized and defensive," Humphrey said of Miller at one point.

He went on to say that Capt. Crystal Young-Haskins of the 12th Street Station Division "is the only patrol captain that's innovative and proactive and doesn't sell bull."

The text exchange preceded escalating tensions between Humphrey and members of his command staff.

Humphrey, who previously served as the police chief in Norman, Okla., was appointed by then-newly elected Mayor Frank Scott Jr. in 2019.

[DOCUMENT: Text messages between Little Rock police chief, then-assistant chief: » arkansasonline.com/1128lrpdtexts/]

Amid protests in Little Rock this summer after the death of George Floyd -- a Black man who died while being arrested by white police officers in Minneapolis -- Humphrey told police officials in a letter that he was frightened by what he called "a segregated LRPD" while attending briefings in preparation for the protests.

And in September, all three of the department's assistant chiefs and seven of 10 police captains signed a letter to Scott and members of the Little Rock Board of Directors accusing Humphrey of creating "a very toxic, hostile and explosive work environment."

The text exchange from March was provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Chris Burks, an attorney representing Fulk in a lawsuit against Humphrey and the city.

In addition to Fulk, Burks has filed lawsuits against Humphrey and the city on behalf of several other Police Department employees who claim that Humphrey retaliated against them.

This fall, Fulk resigned from the Little Rock Police Department to become chief of the Arkansas State Capitol Police.

In an emailed statement provided Friday, Humphrey's attorney Michael Laux said, "Chief Humphrey notes that vital portions of the text communication between Asst. Chief Fulk and himself have been edited out."

"That said, the statements attributed to Chief Humphrey are nothing more than the honest appraisal of subordinate officers by an active, progressive police chief who thinks he is having a confidential discussion with his second-in-command," Laux continued. "The real questions are: why did Asst. Chief Fulk leak the texts and what in the world does it have to do with her fledgling employment discrimination lawsuit?"

In a Democrat-Gazette phone interview Friday with Fulk and her attorney, Fulk confirmed the accuracy of the text exchange and said she did not edit the exchange. Burks, too, denied editing the exchange.

The text exchange from March began with Humphrey asking Fulk for FBI assistance on an incident and requesting the phone number of a victim.

"I want to know y [sic] this wasn't taken seriously? The racial component?" Humphrey wrote. "Is joe [Miller] committed to NW? Too much slipping by him. Crystal [Young-Haskins] appears the only patrol captain on top of her s*. Spriggs is lazy and a dumper, and joe seems overwhelmed. Please fix it or I will," he added.

Fulk wrote, "I will but crystal seems very overwhelmed 2 me."

In his reply, Humphrey asked Fulk to meet with the family along with Miller, then added, "No it's Joe [Miller]. Very unorganized and defensive. She is the only patrol captain that's innovative and proactive and doesn't sell bull."

Humphrey said he was not impressed with Miller or Spriggs.

Fulk replied, "We will agree 2 disagree abt her being in over her head. Not timely with files and better abt notifications but not great. I hve [sic] already chewed Joe."

Burks said Fulk could not elaborate on the incident that led up to the text exchange because of privacy concerns related to the incident referenced in the exchange.

Asked why he chose to provide these text messages now, Burks wrote in an email, "As to the texts evidencing the hostile work environment, our position is that Chief Humphrey is still attempting to cover-up the release of documents that shed light on his illegal actions, and we believe the public has a right to know what the City knew, and when they knew it."

Fulk and Miller signed the Sept. 15 letter urging the mayor and other city leaders to take immediate action to resolve the problems in the Police Department. However, Spriggs and Young-Haskins did not sign the letter.

A lawsuit from Fulk and Lt. Christina Plummer alleging retaliation and discrimination by Humphrey was dismissed by a Pulaski County circuit judge on Oct. 1, but Burks filed an amended complaint shortly thereafter.

Humphrey hit back at his critics with a lawsuit filed by Laux in federal court in late September. In the complaint, the police chief said he was a victim of a conspiracy by a variety of police officials, leaders of the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police and others who intended to oust him.

Lawsuits from Fulk, Assistant Chief Hayward Finks and others say Humphrey retaliated against them in the aftermath of the February 2019 fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire by then-officer Charles Starks.

Starks was terminated by Humphrey and then reinstated pursuant to a judge's order, only to resign in September, claiming that Humphrey had made his working conditions "intolerable."

Members of the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police approved a no-confidence resolution on Humphrey by a wide margin over the summer. The police chief's leadership has been defended by the Little Rock Black Police Officers Association.

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