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Little Rock city attorney objects to proposed Blackshire settlement

by Joseph Flaherty | October 12, 2021 at 3:46 p.m.
City Attorney Tom Carpenter is shown in this file photo.

Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter on Tuesday raised objections to a proposed settlement agreement meant to end litigation brought against the city by the estate of Bradley Blackshire, who was shot and killed by then-officer Charles Starks in 2019.

In an email to Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and members of the city board, Carpenter said he had filed a notice with the federal court to say the city's governing body (i.e., the city board) "has not yet approved the settlement agreement that has been announced as having been reached."

In the short letter filed with the court Tuesday, Carpenter told the judge, "In my position as the Little Rock City Attorney, this letter is to clarify that the governing body of the City of Little Rock has not yet approved any settlement agreement in the above matter. Unless and until that occurs, it does not seem final approval from the Probate Court can occur."

One day earlier, John Wilkerson, the general counsel for the Arkansas Municipal League — the organization which has been handling the litigation on behalf of Little Rock as well as a backup officer involved in the shooting along with lawyers from two outside firms — told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the terms of the proposed settlement would have the Municipal League pay $250,500 and the city pay $49,500 to settle all claims.

The settlement also would include non-monetary provisions, he said.

Wilkerson suggested the city board would not have to approve the settlement agreement because Little Rock will spend less than $50,000.

In his email to city officials, Carpenter said he had recently spoken with Wilkerson to discuss the matter.

"I agreed Friday not to be concerned if there was no effort to take the case into Probate Court for a quick approval. However, [in] the news articles in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Arkansas Times, the statements made by the plaintiffs caused great concern," Carpenter wrote.

He went on to say that the proposed settlement's non-monetary terms, which he described as policy decisions only to be made by city policymakers, caused him "greater concerns."

According to the tentative settlement, the police department would have to incorporate additional training on the use of force and de-escalation tactics.

The city also would have to produce a video featuring a member of the Blackshire family explaining how his death impacted them to be shown to police recruit classes for at least 10 years, and provide information about affordable mental health counseling to the families of individuals killed by police.

In his email, Carpenter wrote that "for over 30 years the training in the Little Rock Police Department has been attacked in state and federal court, and upheld every time. Many of these cases have withstood attack on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Two or three of them have not merited review when sought by the U.S. Supreme Court."

He added, "So, why would the City enter into an agreement which suggests a deficiency in its deadly force training when none has ever been found."

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


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