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Little Rock Civil Service Commission hears details of investigation that led to officer's firing

by Joseph Flaherty | October 9, 2021 at 4:11 a.m.

Members of the Little Rock Civil Service Commission heard more testimony Friday during an appeal hearing for an officer who was terminated for his actions related to the search for a man exposing himself to women in the city, including the officer's wife.

David Mattox was fired in August. He is represented by Robert Newcomb, a local attorney who frequently represents police officials.

Attorneys Khayyam Eddings and Allison Pearson Rhodes of the Friday Firm are handling the appeal on behalf of the city.

A suspect, Ricardo Ramirez-Gonzalez, was arrested in August 2020 for several counts of indecent exposure, police said at the time. But an internal investigation later led to Mattox's termination after Police Chief Keith Humphrey in a July 15, 2021, memo sustained violations of untruthfulness and unauthorized investigation.

"It is very clear that Officer Mattox clearly violated department policies by utilizing sensitive police resources to conduct an unauthorized criminal investigation involving his wife," Humphrey wrote in the memo.

He added later, "I believe there was a heightened level of involvement by Mattox and certain others, due to his wife being one of the victims. I believe there was a need 'to get this done' by some involved."

Commissioners heard Thursday from Humphrey and Assistant Chief Crystal Young-Haskins, who said they stood by their findings against Mattox. On Friday, a series of officials testified about decisions made last year during the effort to apprehend the man who was exposing himself.

Former Little Rock police sergeant Christopher "Kirk" McCauley testified Friday about the contours of the investigation and the events which resulted in a photo lineup being shown to Mattox's wife, Lindsay, at the couple's residence while her husband was also at home.

Part of the questioning during McCauley's testimony drilled into the repercussions of Mattox's wife having seen a photo of the suspect on Facebook prior to being shown the lineup as a result of overhearing her husband say the suspect's name over the phone.

McCauley testified under cross-examination by Eddings that he only learned that information afterward, and said Mattox's wife did not disclose it when McCauley helped arrange the photo lineup that day.

Asked by Eddings if Mattox's wife seeing the photo of the suspect prior to identifying him in the lineup rendered the investigation problematic in any way, McCauley said he did not believe so. Later, under redirect examination, McCauley said the goal of a photo lineup is to get a positive identification of a suspect.

"Facebook is not a positive identification of a suspect," he explained. "Victims of crimes often are familiar with the suspects involved in those crimes on social media."

During the hearing, McCauley said he is unemployed but will go to work for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a special agent of its investigative bureau.

Lt. Rusty Rothwell testified Friday that he felt the optics of having Mattox at the scene of the suspect's arrest "do not look good," citing his belief that if the individual fought or ran, Mattox would feel obligated to act.

If Rothwell were his supervisor that day and Mattox had asked him to go to the scene, he would have told him no, Rothwell said. But since Mattox had a sergeant's permission, it would be fine as far as Mattox was concerned, Rothwell acknowledged.

Another official, Sgt. Greg Birkhead, testified about the circumstances that brought Mattox to the home to confirm the suspect was there prior to the arrest, and how Mattox later came to be present -- albeit in a vehicle a block away -- at the scene of the arrest.

When asked by Newcomb why he did not call other officers, Birkhead testified that they only had so many officers available.

"I can't take the whole watch down there to surround the house and then not have officers available to answer calls," he said.

He testified that he sustained a finding of unauthorized investigation, arguing Mattox was involved in identifying the suspect, but he specifically recommended no disciplinary action be taken.

"If anything, he should have got a letter of commendation like he was nominated for, for getting this guy identified and getting him ... subsequently arrested," Birkhead said under cross-examination.

Birkhead said he did not want Mattox to have personal contact with the suspect during the arrest.

Additionally, Birkhead testified he did not sustain a finding of untruthfulness and explained that he felt Mattox misspoke when the officer was asked about filling out an arrest report during Mattox's Internal Affairs interview. Birkhead said he felt Internal Affairs detectives were wrong to question Mattox without putting the particular report in front of the officer.

The commission adjourned around 12:30 p.m. after its chairman, Jeffrey Hildebrand, indicated the commissioners had to stop by 1 p.m.

It was not immediately clear when commissioners would reconvene to hear additional testimony and issue a decision. Commissioners will have the opportunity to uphold Mattox's termination, reinstate him immediately or suspend him for up to 30 days before reinstating him.

Mattox did not testify Thursday or Friday.

Mattox, McCauley and Rothwell along with Lt. John Michael Trent are suing Humphrey, the city, Assistant Chief Crystal Young-Haskins, Lt. Brittney Gunn and Lt. James Sloan in Pulaski County Circuit Court. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs -- all represented by Newcomb -- claim they experienced adverse treatment stemming from the indecent-exposure investigation.

Print Headline: Testimony continues in ex-officer's appeal

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