Little Rock Police Officer Charles Starks has gone through tumultuous times in the past 11 months. Although he survived a deadly encounter with a criminal who’d rather run him down in a stolen automobile than go to jail, Starks faces a chief and mayor who want him permanently ousted.
This comes to light despite a chain of command with more than a century of law enforcement experience who disagree with the top cop and mayor. Moreover, the internal affairs investigator with another 38 years of experience sees things differently as well.
So if career cops with 150-160 years of law enforcement experience, who know the case inside and out, disagree with the mayor and chief, we want to know why. Is the City of Little Rock kowtowing to vocal, anti-police opposition? Apparently that is the case since even the judge ruled that Starks should be reinstated, yet they’re stilling fighting to terminate his services.
These circumstances have made me angry and I’m driven to shine a light on the gross injustice being done to Charles Starks, a good man who simply wants to serve his community with honor and integrity. However, he is being thrown out of the organization by two people who appear to be yielding to naysayers.
Let’s look at what’s going on.
Overview of Officer Starks’ case
Officer Charles Starks was responding to a call Feb. 22, 2019 after a detective confirmed that the car Bradley Blackshire was driving was stolen. Due to circumstances—crazy things happen in police work—Starks found himself in a vulnerable position, with weapon drawn, ordering the suspect out of the car. But Blackshire refused to comply on multiple occasions.
When the vehicle being operated by Blackshire began to move toward Starks, he backed away. Nevertheless, the left front quarter panel struck him. Starks did not fire until he was hit a second time by Blackshire and felt pain in his leg upon being struck. Moreover, the vehicle continued to turn toward and drive into Starks.
Consequently, as the continuing action unfolds, Starks is laid out on the hood of the vehicle. As a result, he continued to fire until the suspect was no longer a threat.
Had Starks been killed, he’d be a hero. But he lived, so there is a different outcome!
I compared and contrasted Starks circumstances to those of the late Officer Amy Caprio of the Baltimore County Police Department, in the piece, “Damned If You Do, Dead If You Don’t.”
Caprio died a “hero.” Starks is being “burned at the stake” by two individuals who should have his back, regardless of race. … Yes, I’m bringing it up since police-haters have tabled it as an issue!
It should be noted that Starks was cleared by District Attorney Larry Jegley, according to court documents. Jegley found Starks’ “actions to be lawful and his shooting of Mr. Blackshire justified under Arkansas law. Additionally under Federal and State Law the actions were clearly civilly justified.”
Although each person in Starks’ chain of command—from sergeant to assistant chief—disagree with the decision to terminate him, Chief Keith Humphrey fired Starks for violating General Order 303. II.E.2, which says, “Officers will not voluntarily place themselves in a position in front of an oncoming vehicle, where deadly force is the probable outcome. When confronted by an oncoming vehicle, officers will move out of its path, if possible, rather than fire at the vehicle.”
Beyond his chain of command, the prosecutor deemed the shooting to be legally justified, and the judge ordered reinstatement after a thorough review of the facts in addition to the cumulative expert opinions of those involved in the case. So what else can it be if it’s not politics? It certainly isn’t sound judgment!
Chief Humphrey is on an island
Court paperwork filed by Starks’ attorney says, “Chief Humphrey’s decision to terminate Officer Starks stands as a textbook example of the 20/20 hindsight that both the Arkansas Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court unequivocally denounced time and again for the past thirty years. As proof that Chief Humphrey’s decision does not reflect the decision of a reasonable officer on the scene, the standard set out clearly in Graham v. Connor, Officer Starks’ chain of command stated their beliefs that Officer Starks should not have been terminated.”
Furthermore, each member in Starks’ chain of command held the opinion that he did not violate the purpose of the policy, which led to his termination. This included a sergeant with 25 years of experience, a lieutenant with 32 years, a captain with 25 years, and the assistant chief with 32 years, according to court documents. That is a bevy of experience that believed Starks’ actions were not a violation of policy, let alone worthy of termination. Beyond his chain of command, there were an additional six members of the police department (two sergeants, three officers, and another assistant chief) who gave an opinion that deadly force was reasonable and/or there was no violation of department policy. In total, they possessed 166 years of experience. Of those who believed there was a technical violation of policy, none thought it rose to the level of being a terminating offense.
Assistant Chief Finks testified that the purpose of the Rule was to prevent officers from, “baiting a person into driving at them where they could use deadly force,” not to second guess an officer who sought the cover of his patrol vehicle, the only cover available, while under and attempting to survive a deadly attack committed by a fleeing felon in a stolen vehicle.
Most noteworthy, Chief Humphrey was hired by the mayor after this shooting occurred. Was Starks’ termination a litmus test for being hired? Furthermore, he testified under oath that he did not consult a single officer in the chain of command including his two deputy chiefs, nor did he believe their opinions were relevant to his analysis or his decision, according to court documents.
What kind of feckless, irresponsible leadership is this?
Race as a focal point
In my previous article, I wrote, “I hate when race becomes the focal point in a news story related to an officer involved shooting. I can safely say that race is not a factor with 99 percent of the cops I’ve known for the past 37 years. When it comes to character and ethics, I’ll stack law enforcement up against any other industry. Crooks come in every color. Nevertheless, plastered in every publication covering the Starks story was ‘white’ officer shoots ‘black’ suspect.”
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Thursday ordered the police department to reinstate Starks and retroactively suspend him 30 days without pay. He also ordered Starks’ salary to be reduced to that of an entry-level officer, KATV reported.
All right, it’s a bitter pill to swallow since a poorly crafted policy led to these actions, but it’s better than termination.
“I was pleased to see the judge’s decision. Obviously, from the beginning of this case, I’ve felt that Officer Starks did not do anything wrong,” said his attorney Robert Newcomb.
“Us” vs. “Them”
“This is a bad day for Little Rock. It’s a black eye for Little Rock. Judge Fox, for whatever reason he made the decision, I think it was more political than not,” said Rizelle Aaron, former Arkansas NAACP President and Blackshire family friend.
“Every time he pulls one of us over,” Aaron continued, “I believe he’s going to be prepared to hurt one of us. And again, we have to decide whether he goes home or whether we go home.”
Whoa, what did he say? “We have to decide whether he goes home or whether we go home.” So, what is his emphasis? “We” need to take “them” out before “they” take “us” out. Is that what he is saying? It sounds like it.
Furthermore, Aaron infers that Starks is incapable of making justifiable decisions when dealing with “us.”
This statement is wholly unhealthy for society and further demonstrates the false narrative that white law enforcement officers are generally racist. It’s offensive and it’s wildly off mark.
City will appeal reinstatement
“The City of Little Rock will appeal the reinstatement of Officer Charles Starks, whose May firing was reversed Thursday morning, according to a statement from Khayyam M. Eddings, an attorney with Friday Eldredge & Clark, LLP,” reported Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Although Judge Fox ordered reinstatement, the city (i.e. mayor and chief) will contest the ruling.
“Most often used in mitigation is acceptance of responsibility. In this case, Officer Starks steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for what the Court held was a clear violation of the General Order 303.II.E.2,” the statement said. “Understanding these facts, as counsel for the City of Little Rock we intend to appeal the Court’s decision and ask the Court to stay its order reinstating Officer Starks pending the appeal.”
Officer Starks’ attorney, Mr. Robert A. Newcomb provides insight
Law Officer connected with Officer Starks and his attorney, Mr. Robert A. Newcomb.
Needless to say, the city’s response to Starks’ fatal encounter is deeply troubling. It has placed him in an unenviable position.
In addition to providing previously sourced court documents, Mr. Newcomb offered the following details:
“The City has indicated that they are going to appeal the case and ask that the Judge not make the City have to put Charles Starks back to work. I am going to ask the Judge to order that the City put him back to work because the appeal process is likely to exceed a year in time. Since he has not had a regular paycheck since May, financially he will not be able to keep his house or vehicle. His wife worked a lot of extra hours, but she cannot physically continue to keep working the number of hours a week that she was working. I am going to ask that the Court order that the City even if they don’t put him in the position of a police officer that they still put him in a position at the police department making the same that he would under the Judge’s Order.”
Mr. Newcomb told me that Starks’ “Chain of Command who recommend that he be exonerated and add up their years of service with the Police Department it is approximately 125. His Chain of Command consisted of a Sergeant, a Lieutenant, a Captain, and an Assistant Chief who has approximately 28 years felt that Mr. Starks technically violated the policy but that in her opinion he should not have been terminated.”
Mr. Newcomb said these opinions are a matter of public record (and were previously outlined in this article).
Moreover, “the Internal Affairs investigator who had 38 years with the police department and is now retired at the rank of Sergeant felt that there was a violation of the policy but because of the nature of the situation Mr. Starks only deserved a ten day suspension. So therefore, the only two people with the City of Little Rock that have gone on the record thinking that Mr. Starks should have been fired is a brand new police Chief and an inexperienced Mayor.”
Officer Starks’ state of mind
In addition to the vehicle being used as a weapon, something Arkansas law takes into account, Starks believed Blackshire was going for a gun, according to court documents. This was supported by the fact that a stolen .45 caliber handgun was located in the stolen vehicle, along with 13 grams of methamphetamine. (Blackshire also had four prior felony convictions.)
Blackshire’s autopsy revealed he had both PCP and methamphetamine in his system. If you do not think this is relevant you’ve never been involved in arresting someone who is strung out on these drugs — especially PCP.
Blackshire’s state of mind
A criminal can become desperate when he believes an arrest is imminent. Add to that the perilous vulnerability of knowingly driving a stolen automobile (that can be used as a weapon), a stolen firearm and narcotics in the vehicle, as well as the combination of PCP with methamphetamine in his blood system. Therefore, we cannot negate Blackshire’s state of mind, and it was anything but rational when confronted by police officers.
Unapologetically rooting for Charles Starks
Law Officer will continue to monitor this case. In the meantime, we unapologetically root for Charles Starks, just as we would if he were black and Mr. Blackshire was not. Race is irrelevant, actions mean everything. Blackshire chose his path, and his criminal activity intersected with a police officer doing his best to serve the citizens of Little Rock.
Shamefully, Chief Humphrey couldn’t be more wrong in his assessment. Consequently, Charles Starks and his family are paying a tremendous price for public service.
Finally, we encourage police leaders to act courageously. Law enforcement can be a messy business, which requires resolve when sorting through acts of violence perpetuated against police and by police in order to save life. If you cannot defend the reality that deadly acts of violence require an aggressive response, please do not seek promotion. Better yet, leave the business; we do not need more weak leaders.
– Jim McNeff
Note: If you’d like to assist the Starks family pay their bills during this time of tribulation with the City of Little Rock, you can do so via a GoFundMe page, which has been established by Little Rock FOP and others.