Court reverses order to reinstate fired Little Rock officer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas appeals court on Wednesday reversed a lower court judge’s order that Little Rock must reinstate a police officer who was fired for fatally shooting a Black motorist.

The Arkansas Court of Appeals panel reversed Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s decision last year regarding the firing of former Officer Charles Starks over the fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire. Starks fired his gun at least 15 times through the windshield of a car Blackshire was driving in February 2019.

Fox reversed the Little Rock Civil Service Commission’s decision to uphold Starks’ firing and instead imposed a 30-day suspension and reduction in salary. Starks resigned in September and accused the police chief of making his working conditions “intolerable” after his reinstatement.

Starks pulled over Blackshire because the car he was driving had been reported stolen, though Blackshire’s family has said he borrowed it from a friend. Surveillance and dashcam footage showed that Starks instructed Blackshire to exit the parked car. Instead, Blackshire began to slowly drive away and bumped Starks, who fired into the windshield four times. The car briefly stopped and Starks got onto its hood and fired at least 11 more times into the car as it continued to move.

Police commanders fired Starks, saying he violated a department policy that requires officers to move out of an oncoming vehicle’s path if possible rather than fire on it.

The appeals court found that while making his decision, Fox had incorrectly broken the incident into two parts — before and after Starks left his vehicle.

“This case is simply a question of whether (the department’s policy) was violated, and that question must be analyzed under the voluntariness of the act, not a reasonableness standard as used by the circuit court,” the appeals court said in its ruling. “Therefore, there is no need to divide the situation into emergency or nonemergency situations nor to determine whether the actions were reasonable for an officer with similar training and experience.”

The court ordered a new hearing before Fox on Starks’ firing.

“It looks like we go back to court and have another hearing on that question,” said , Starks’ attorney, Robert Newcomb. He has argued that Starks’ pay cut should be reversed and that he’s also owed back pay.

A prosecutor declined to file charges against Starks over the shooting, saying the car was moving and an imminent threat that justified the use of deadly force.

Blackshire’s family filed a lawsuit claiming that Starks and a second officer used excessive force and failed to provide medical care.

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