LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Amid lawsuits and distrust up and down the ranks of the Little Rock Police Department, two distinct groups are welcoming the call by Mayor Frank Scott Jr. for an outside, third-party review of the force’s procedures.
At the center of the storm is embattled Chief Keith Humphrey, who 13-months into the job has critics and supporters. The former group has knocked his position as an outsider put in place by a mayor, who at the time was also new to his job.
The latter see Humphrey as a change agent who faced difficult decisions early in his tenure.
“My understanding is that Mayor Scott has faith in Chief Humphrey,” said Mike Laux, an attorney who has been a frequent critic of the LRPD, but a vocal supporter of Chief Humphrey. “With just 13 months into the job, there’s just not much there with the chief’s fingerprints on it that would be untoward.”
Laux represents Karen Hunter, a woman who applied for a job with the city, but had her personnel file released to the media in what she and Laux claims were efforts to discredit her qualifications and accuse Humphrey of championing her for the job because of their friendship. Hunter has since withdrawn her application.
That controversy is the latest in a string of lawsuits, complaints, and accusations with their roots coming from the deadly shooting of Bradley Blackshire, a black man, by white Officer Charles Starks in Feb. 2019.
The chief and mayor wanted Starks fired and eventually got that result, despite disagreement throughout the officer’s chain of command. They felt his actions didn’t merit termination and prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges. The civil service review board upheld the firing, only to have Starks get his job back through an appeal to a circuit judge.
Among the supervisors who disagreed with the chief’s decision to fire Starks are two assistant chiefs who were passed over for the job Humphrey won. They are now suing the city, claiming Humphrey retaliated against them. A third group of legal complaints were also filed in April over department policies dealing with personnel records.
“With the chief’s office engulfed in multiple lawsuits,” said Officer Ronnie Morgan, the president of the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police. “There is clearly something wrong at the highest levels of our department.”
In a statement, Morgan said the labor organization welcomed the inquiry from the mayor. They have been unable to meet because of the coronavirus pandemic, but have permission to gather May 26 where a “no confidence” vote may be taken.
The mayor said the review will focus on many of the things at the center of the year’s controversies, but for supporters of the mayor and chief, the review stands a good a chance at backing Humphrey as it does damaging his ability to run the department.
“The entire internal investigation system in the LRPD is fundamentally broken, and it has been fundamentally broken for decades,” Laux said. “Do the deep cleanse. Let the facts lead and let the chips fall where they may.”
THV11 asked both Mayor Scott and Chief Humphrey to comment for this story and both declined through spokespeople.