Little Rock settles lawsuit over shooting death of Bradley Blackshire
A settlement has been reached in the lawsuit brought by the family of Bradley Blackshire, killed by Little Rock Police Officer Charles Starks during a traffic stop.
Trial had been scheduled in April, but the city notified the federal court informally Thursday that the settlement had been reached. Judge Price Marshall said the complaint would be dismissed, with a status report due Nov. 12. A filing today by plaintiffs indicated they do not want the claim dismissed until a state court has approved probable of Blackshire’s estate.
The Arkansas Blog reported in July that settlement discussions were underway.
The suit is by Britney Walls, Blackshire’s sister, as administratrix of Blackshire’s estate. It names Starks, the city of Little Rock and Officer Michael Simpson, who drove into the car Starks was attempting to stop in February 2019 because it was reported stolen. Starks was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley and a chain of police supervisors said Starks was justified in shooting Blackshire after he tried to slowly drive away and bumped Starks in the process. Starks jumped in front of the car and fired multiple times, killing Blackshire. Police Chief Keith Humphrey fired Starks. Simpson’s actions that day were upheld in an administrative review. Starks successfully sued to overturn his firing, then resigned from the department. The city’s appeal of his reinstatement remains active though recent Supreme Court intermediate rulings have sided with the city.
Attorneys for Blackshire’s estate asked for a trial extension on June 29. They said attorneys for the city and Simpson, but not Starks, had been in settlement discussions and the city had asked to include Starks for “possible resolution of the entire matter.”
In cases such as these, the government is typically the source of money for the settlement, whether through its funds or insurance coverage. No terms are on file as yet and no filings in Blackshire’s probate case reveal details. The most recent filings in the probate case came at the end of September, when five heirs of the estate, including his mother, filed notices of consent to waive a hearing on the inventory and accounting of assets as well as consent to the distribution of assets as petitioned by the estate’s representative. That seems to anticipate the settlement.
In this case, for example, the city and the Arkansas Municipal League insurance program could share the cost. The city can’t agree to pay more than $50,000 without City Board approval, however. That could be an issue with members divided over the chief’s leadership.
Robert Newcomb, Starks’ attorney, said the tentative settlement requires no payments by Starks. He would agree to participate in what Newcomb called a “restorative justice program” in which trained people talk to Starks and the Blackshire family separately and sometimes encourage a joint meeting of the participants.
Shakur said there’s no provision for “restorative justice” in his settlement with Little Rock. He said the settlement includes monetary and non-monetary provisions but he wasn’t prepared to discuss them yet.
He said the Blackshire family would view this outcome as “just the beginning” of efforts to bring justice to Little Rock police department practices.
He said he believed the settlement was helped in part by work of their expert on police practices, Seth Stoughton, who testified for the prosecution in the George Floyd murder case. Shakur said Stoughton had found a pattern in the department of “dangerously poor tactics” that increased the likelihood an officer would use deadly force. He said Starks’ decisions the day of the shooting were inconsistent with good police practice, from the initial stop to stepping in front of Blackshire’s moving car and then firing multiple times. Had he used “generally accepted” practices, the consultant reportedly found, Blackshire wouldn’t have been killed.