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Appeals court reverses decision that found Little Rock, police department in contempt for treatment of former officer

by Joseph Flaherty | September 29, 2021 at 12:30 p.m.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE -- 9/4/2019 -- Former Little Rock Police officer Charles Starks listens to testimony during the Civil Service Commission hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, at Little Rock City Hall.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a Pulaski County circuit judge's decision to hold the city of Little Rock and the Little Rock Police Department in contempt for their treatment of former officer Charles Starks following his reinstatement to the force.

Starks was fired in 2019 after he shot and killed motorist Bradley Blackshire. He was reinstated because of a January 2020 order by Circuit Judge Tim Fox. Starks later filed a motion for contempt, arguing the city and police department violated Fox's prior order by placing him on "relieved of duty" status and not returning his gun, badge and credentials.

The "relieved of duty" classification served to stigmatize Starks and prevented him from doing off-duty police work, therefore leaving him unable to gain additional income, Starks claimed, according to the appeals court's recitation of the facts in the case.

Fox then found the city and department in contempt. He ordered them to return Starks' items and return him to the same duty classification he held before the fatal shooting. Starks' gun and badge were returned shortly thereafter.

Lawyers for the city had appealed the contempt decision.

According to the opinion issued Wednesday, the Court of Appeals found there was no violation of the terms of the January 2020 reinstatement order from Fox.

The appeals court wrote that Fox's prior order reinstating Starks was "silent as to the specific characteristics" of his reinstatement, and cited Arkansas law which does not list a change of duty status among possible punishments.

"When, under the circumstances and the legal issues involved, a party does all that is expressly required of him by court order, it is erroneous to hold him in contempt," Judge Bart F. Virden wrote for the Court of Appeals decision.

Starks resigned from the police department in September 2020.

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