LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge on Thursday ordered the city of Little Rock to reinstate a police officer who was fired for fatally shooting a black motorist.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox reversed the Little Rock Civil Service Commission's ruling upholding the termination of Officer Charles Starks over the fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire. Starks fired at least 15 times through the windshield of a car Blackshire was driving in February.
Starks and another officer were attempting a motor vehicle stop at the time. Police commanders fired Starks in May, saying he violated department policy.
Fox upheld the commission's ruling that Starks violated policy prohibiting officers from voluntarily placing themselves in front of an oncoming vehicle “where deadly force is the probable outcome.” That policy requires officers to move out of an oncoming vehicle's path if possible rather than fire.
But the judge said a 30-day suspension and reduction in salary to an entry level officer are more appropriate sanctions.
“The court is not minimizing the loss of human life and other material consequences from the subject incident,” Fox wrote. “There are, however, any number of possible scenarios where the consequential results could have been even more substantial, to both civilians as well as law enforcement personnel.”
A spokeswoman for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott said the city will appeal Fox's ruling.
Robert Newcomb, Starks' attorney, said he was happy with Fox's ruling and said the city appealing it would be a waste of taxpayer money.
“The mayor is continuing to make his relationship with the police department bad,” he said.
Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley in April declined to file charges against Starks. Jegley said the car was moving and an imminent threat" that justified the use of deadly force. Though Fox's decision only dealt with Starks' termination, the judge said that based on the evidence and testimony submitted he did not believe the officer violated criminal law in the incident.
Blackshire's family filed a federal lawsuit in June claiming Starks and the second officer used excessive force and failed to provide medical care. Blackshire's family in a statement said they were “alarmed and dismayed" by Fox's decision.
“We hope the city will appeal the judge's erroneous ruling. In the meantime, we will continue to pursue justice for Bradley Blackshire in federal court,” the family said.
Fox wrote that Starks' actions from when he exited his patrol vehicle did not violate the department's policy. But he said the officer made other “illogical decisions," including parking his patrol car in a way where he had to walk across the front of the vehicle Blackshire was driving.
In his ruling, Fox noted that several police officials recommended Starks be exonerated before the city's police chief ordered the officer's firing.
An attorney representing Little Rock said the city will ask Fox to stay his ruling pending the appeal.
“Mr. Bradley Blackshire suffered the most serious and substantial consequence of Officer Starks’ violation of the General Order when he lost his life," Khayyam Eddings said in a statement. “However, the court made no analysis of mitigating factors that would justify a lesser penalty than termination - which it said is the absolute most severe consequence that could be levied against Officer Starks in this case."