Blackshire's estate seeks to end lawsuit against Little Rock following $300,000 settlement

Motion seeks to end case against city, ex-officers over slaying

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR. - A press conference was held at the Empowerment Center on 12th Street in Little Rock Monday afternoon to address the death of Bradley Jamal Blackshire, who was killed by a Little Rock police officer last Friday. At right Blackshire's mother, Kimberly Blackshire-Lee tearfully addresses her son's death.At left is Blackshire-Lee's husband, DeAngelo Lee. A photo of Bradley Blackshire is at right.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR. - A press conference was held at the Empowerment Center on 12th Street in Little Rock Monday afternoon to address the death of Bradley Jamal Blackshire, who was killed by a Little Rock police officer last Friday. At right Blackshire's mother, Kimberly Blackshire-Lee tearfully addresses her son's death.At left is Blackshire-Lee's husband, DeAngelo Lee. A photo of Bradley Blackshire is at right.

A civil lawsuit against the city of Little Rock and two former police officers over the 2019 fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire is set to end, despite a contentious settlement process, after attorneys for Blackshire's estate filed a motion Friday to dismiss their claims with prejudice.

The motion in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas was unopposed by the defendants, clearing the way for Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. to end the litigation after more than two years of proceedings.

Dismissal of the claims with prejudice means the claims cannot be refiled.

Under the $300,000 settlement, a $250,500 payment to Blackshire's estate will be borne by the Arkansas Municipal League, which represented the city through the organization's legal defense program. Little Rock will pay $49,500 through the office of City Manager Bruce Moore.

Blackshire was shot and killed by then-officer Charles Starks on Feb. 22, 2019. At the time, the 30-year-old Black motorist was behind the wheel of a vehicle that had been reported stolen.

Starks, who is white, was later fired for violating police rules pertaining to the use of force when confronted with a moving vehicle, though prosecutors declined to charge him with criminal wrongdoing.

The decision to fire Starks kick-started a chain of events that included his reinstatement by a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge, Starks' resignation from the department last year and a recent Arkansas Court of Appeals ruling that sent the reinstatement decision back to the lower court for more review.

Representatives for Blackshire's estate filed the civil suit in June 2019.

Attorneys from the firm Loevy and Loevy represented his estate in addition to attorneys Lauren A. Johnson of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Omavi Shukur, practioner-in-residence at a center based at Columbia University.

The litigation filed by Blackshire's estate named the city, Starks and Michael Simpson, who was the first officer to arrive as backup at the scene of the shooting. Simpson has since resigned from the Police Department.

A probate court judge last month approved a plan for how the $300,000 settlement proceeds will be divided among Britney Walls, the special administrator of Blackshire's estate; Blackshire's mother, Kim Blackshire-Lee; and Blackshire's five minor children.

Loevy and Loevy attorneys will receive $85,000, a sum that represented a voluntary reduction from their 40% contingency fee, according to the order from Judge Casey Tucker.

Starks was represented separately in the litigation by his attorney, Robert Newcomb, who said by phone Friday that his client will not pay as a result of the settlement.

A mediated sit-down conversation between Starks and the Blackshire family has been planned as part of the agreement, Newcomb said. Individuals can talk about how the shooting affected both parties without Starks having to apologize or make any admissions that what he did was wrong, he said.

Although Little Rock's defense against the litigation was initially being handled by the office of City Attorney Tom Carpenter on behalf of the city and Simpson, the case was handed off to the Arkansas Municipal League in August 2020.

At that time, Carpenter had determined that recent litigation filed against Police Chief Keith Humphrey by the chief's colleagues presented a conflict for his office.

In turn, the Municipal League tapped attorneys from the Kendall Law Firm and the firm of Harrington, Miller, Kieklak, Eichmann and Brown. But the outside lawyers' handling of the settlement agreement later drew the ire of Carpenter as well as members of the Little Rock Board of Directors.

When news of a settlement was initially made public last month via a note from the federal judge in the court docket, Carpenter said his office had not been consulted on the agreement.

In the days that followed, he raised further objections. The city's share of the monetary sum to be paid without formal city board approval was not subject to a competitive bid, Carpenter said, casting doubt on Moore's ability to approve purchases below a $50,000 threshold.

Additionally, Carpenter suggested that the non-monetary components to the settlement were problematic.

Those terms said the city of Little Rock must produce a video featuring a Blackshire family member to be shown to police recruits for at least 10 years, provide counseling information to the families of individuals killed by police, and implement additional training on the use of force and de-escalation with an eye to how to approach occupied vehicles during high-risk encounters.

Discretion as to the type and extent of the additional training will be left solely to the Police Department, according to the settlement's language.

"It is possible that you would wish to sign such an agreement; but, the policy decision belongs to the elected body," Carpenter wrote to city officials in October. "That has not been done."

Ultimately, at a meeting Tuesday, the Little Rock Board of Directors approved a motion authorizing Moore to execute the agreement, though Moore earlier in the meeting indicated that the agreement had been recently executed.

The brief motion filed Friday by Blackshire's estate sought to memorialize Blackshire as it announced his estate was dropping its claims.

"Bradley was a loving son, brother, and father of five young children," the motion said. "He was known for his warm nature, his contagious smile, and his exceptional empathy for others around him, even as he grappled with his own personal challenges."

When he was killed, Blackshire's five children ranged from the age of 10, his eldest, to 1 year old, his youngest, the motion said.

"To them, he was 'Daddy.' Bradley labored to help provide for his family, working in trucking, janitorial work, and construction," the motion said. "He organized birthday parties for his children, brought them to family gatherings, and tried his best to cultivate a supporting, loving community in which they could thrive. The impact of his death on his family, friends, and community is immeasurable."

A footnote in the motion said that defendants were provided with a copy of the motion prior to filing.

"The Defendants in this matter do not oppose the relief sought in this motion but do not join the commentary provided herein," the note said.

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