Controversial firing of Little Rock officer leaves cops in disagreement

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Police in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Monday fired a white officer who killed a black motorist by shooting at least 15 times through the windshield as the car was moving.

Officer Charles Starks has 10 business days to appeal his termination, police spokesman Michael Ford said. Starks’ lawyer, Robert Newcomb, called the decision to fire Starks “political” and said the officer has begun the appeal process, Fox News reported.

Prosecutors on April 19 declined to file charges against Starks in the death of 30-year-old Bradley Blackshire, a decision applauded by most police use of force experts.

Authorities said Starks was responding to a call Feb. 22 after a detective confirmed that the car Blackshire was driving was stolen. Starks fired multiple rounds into the moving car, killing Blackshire at the scene.

A 25-minute video that city and police officials released in March consisting of surveillance and police dashcam footage shows Starks instructing Blackshire to exit the parked vehicle. Instead, Blackshire begins to slowly drive away, bumping Starks, who fires into the windshield four times. The car briefly stops and Starks maneuvers onto the hood of the vehicle, shooting at least 11 more times as the car continues to move.

Starks stops shooting when a second officer arrives and crashes into Blackshire’s vehicle.

As a result of the shooting, Starks was placed on administrative leave while the department investigated the incident.

The police department’s use-of-force policy instructs officers to move out of the path of a moving vehicle instead of shooting at it. Officers are only allowed to fire at a moving vehicle to “prevent imminent death or serious physical injury,” KATV reported.

Moreover, the department also prohibits officers from boxing in vehicles and ramming vehicles. Video of the Blackshire shooting shows a police vehicle blocking his path and an officer ramming into the vehicle after it starts moving. Therefore, these series of events would seem to be the crux of their decision to terminate Starks.

In a letter to police Chief Keith Humphrey explaining why he would not file charges, Pulaski County prosecutor Larry Jegley said the moving vehicle was a deadly threat that justified Starks’ use of force.

Therefore, just because the department policy prohibits firing at a moving vehicle does not make the automobile any less of a threat as assessed by a police officer. Consequently, it’s possible the policy is lacking or department administrators who approved the protocol left Starks exposed under these conditions.

An investigative report released by police indicates methamphetamine, PCP, marijuana and cocaine were found in Blackshire’s body. An interview in the file also reveals Starks said he “blacked out” and could not recall some specifics of the shooting.

This fact should not be alarming as it often occurs when cops are involved in fatal encounters.

A lawyer for Blackshire’s family did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Starks’ firing. After prosecutors declined to file charges last month, family members said they believed the officer’s actions were “criminal.” Nevertheless, that does not make them so.

Newcomb, the attorney for Starks, said he thinks the decision to fire Starks was influenced by Mayor Frank Scott. The lawyer cited a series of letters by Starks’ superiors recommending he not be fired.

Ford said the police chief makes the final decision on any termination.

A spokesman for the mayor said Scott “respects Chief Humphrey’s decision” but otherwise has no comment.

Scott, the city’s first elected black mayor, has previously called for an independent citizen review board to examine excessive police force and has begun the process of acquiring body cameras for officers.

 

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