Little Rock police chief, assistant chief defend firing officer over investigating indecent exposure case

Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey (left) holds a press conference at police headquarters in Little Rock in this Dec. 28, 2020, file photo as Assistant Chief Crystal Young Haskins looks on. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey (left) holds a press conference at police headquarters in Little Rock in this Dec. 28, 2020, file photo as Assistant Chief Crystal Young Haskins looks on. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

The Little Rock police chief and assistant chief defended their decision to fire an officer involved in a lawsuit against them during a Civil Service Commission hearing on Thursday.

Chief Keith Humphrey and Assistant Chief Crystal Young-Haskins both said under oath that they stand by their allegations of untruthfulness and unauthorized investigation against former Officer David Mattox. The violations pertained to an indecent exposure case in which Mattox's wife, Lindsay, was one of the victims.

The Little Rock Police Department has a policy that officers cannot investigate most criminal cases in which a family member is a victim of the crime in question. Humphrey said Mattox was "more involved than just being supportive of his wife" throughout the investigation.

"[He was] giving information, calling to determine where the investigation was, running this individual through the state system, being in view when the subject was arrested, following him to the interview room, being asked to leave, not leaving him alone and then filling out the paperwork," Humphrey said. "That is the definition of involvement. That's formal involvement."

Mattox was fired in August. He and three officers who are still serving filed the lawsuit on Aug. 31 in Pulaski County Circuit Court, alleging adverse treatment by the chief and other police personnel.

The suit names Lt. Brittany Gunn and Lt. James Sloan, both of whom testified Thursday, in addition to Humphrey and Young-Haskins.

The plaintiffs -- Mattox, Lt. John Michael Trent, Lt. Rusty Rothwell and Sgt. Christopher "Kirk" McCauley -- are represented by attorney Robert Newcomb. Khayyam Eddings and Allison Pearson Rhodes of the Friday Firm are representing the defendants.

The suit is the most recent development in a series of escalating fractures in the Police Department between Humphrey and many rank-and-file officers as well as command staff.

Last year, police investigated several instances of a man suspected of exposing himself to six different women in Little Rock. On Aug. 30, 2020, a suspect, Ricardo Ramirez-Gonzalez, was arrested on several counts of indecent exposure, police said at the time.

The lawsuit states an individual exposed himself to Lindsay Mattox on two separate occasions in June 2020 while she was jogging. He followed her down the street in his vehicle, a white GMC Terrain, the second time.

The suit alleges that Gunn was presented with information from Mattox about the suspect's vehicle after he identified it while on patrol, but Gunn "did not take any meaningful actions to apprehend this sexual deviant thereby subjecting his behavior to" five additional women in the city.

Gunn testified during Thursday's hearing that she thought Mattox's identification of the vehicle "didn't pass the smell test" since his wife had been a victim of a crime committed by the driver.

Gunn and Det. Aaron Mathis, who was assigned the investigation of the individual exposing himself, testified they were suspicious about Lindsay Mattox identifying the suspect in a lineup of photos.

They said she initially told police she did not get a good look at the man's face during their second encounter, as she was focused on getting to safety and contacting her husband. She also told police the man was wearing a mask the first time she saw him.

The lawsuit ties Mathis and Gunn, then a sergeant, to accusations against plaintiffs McCauley and Rothwell. It states the plaintiffs believe that Gunn falsely claimed that Rothwell and McCauley pointed out the suspect's picture to Lindsay Mattox before she was shown a lineup.

Sloan, the head of the department's Internal Affairs division, said Thursday that Lindsay Mattox claimed at the time that she had never seen a photo of the suspect but later changed her story and said she had seen one on Facebook.

Eddings said in his opening statement at the hearing that Lindsay Mattox had looked up Ricardo Ramirez-Gonzalez on Facebook after hearing her husband mention his name on the phone.

Mattox watched his fellow officers, including Mathis, arrest Ramirez-Gonzalez, though he did not get directly involved. Gunn testified that she vetoed Mattox's request to be present for the arrest, and Mattox asked another sergeant, who said he could be present but not get involved in the arrest.

"Just because he had permission from a sergeant doesn't mean it was appropriate," Young-Haskins said.

Later, in an interview for an Internal Affairs investigation, Mattox denied filling out the arrest disposition report, but Mathis said he saw Mattox doing so. Mattox again denied this to Internal Affairs, which led to the untruthfulness charge against him.

Police Department policy states that there must be proof of intent to deceive before disciplining an officer for untruthfulness. Humphrey testified Thursday that he believed the intent was there, since Mattox's two denials were vehement and his account of the rest of the case was clear and detailed.

"If you're all in, you're all in," Humphrey said. "He was all in on the investigation and he would remember the documentation that he filled out."

Young-Haskins said she recommended that Humphrey fire Mattox after she read the Internal Affairs report. Termination has been a potential consequence for untruthfulness at the department since about five years ago, she said.

The lawsuit accuses Humphrey, Young-Haskins, Gunn and Sloan of abuse of process, racial discrimination and violation of the plaintiffs' rights under the Arkansas Constitution.

An Aug. 9 email from Arkansas Tech University professor Loretta Cochran alleged racial discrimination in Mattox's firing.

The city hired Cochran in a temporary, part-time capacity to work through a backlog of human resources reviews, a mayoral spokeswoman said in late July. Cochran prepared a final report tied to the investigation into Humphrey after internal complaints from police personnel.

"It is my opinion that the termination of Officer Mattox is a clear indication of racial discrimination, hostile working conditions, and retaliation by Lt. Gunn, Asst. Chief Crystal Haskins, and Chief Keith Humphrey," reads the email provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by Newcomb. "This ill-advised decision will most likely contribute to a continuing destabilization of the LRPD."

Civil Service Commission Chairman Jeffrey Hildebrand did not allow Newcomb to cite Cochran's report or question her as a witness on Thursday, claiming Cochran's work for the city is not relevant to Mattox's firing.

Newcomb asked Gunn multiple times Thursday about a comment the lawsuit claims she made during the indecent exposure investigation last year. She allegedly told Rothwell, her supervisor, that she didn't know "what all the white women in the Heights were so upset about."

Gunn told Newcomb repeatedly that she did not say that.

Commissioner Maxine Allen later asked Sloan if stating the demographics of the victims of a crime is a racial slur or simply a factual statement. Sloan said it was the latter.

Multiple victims of the indecent exposure offender were white women who lived in the Heights neighborhood.

Mathis resigned from the police force on Sept. 7. He said a major reason for his departure was that other officers treated him like a "snitch" for raising concerns about the handling of the indecent exposure investigation.

The lawsuit asks the court to award punitive and compensatory damages as well as attorney's fees and court costs. Additionally, it requests that Mattox be reinstated to his position as a sniper with the police department's SWAT unit, among other items.

Meanwhile, the seven-member Civil Service Commission will decide at the end of the hearing whether firing Mattox was an appropriate action. The commission can uphold the firing, reinstate Mattox as an officer immediately or reinstate him after a suspension of no more than 30 days.

Newcomb called several witnesses Thursday to testify to Mattox's character and dispute the untruthfulness allegation. McCauley and Rothwell will testify today.

Upcoming Events