Last fall, The Post published my year-long investigation into the Little Rock Police Department. The report looked at the career of Josh Hastings, a cop who was hired despite lying on his application about having previously attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting, who accumulating a jaw-dropping disciplinary record, and who was ultimately fired after discharging his weapon into a moving car, killing a 15-year-old black male named Bobby Moore, and then lying about it.
Moore’s family sued, and put together an astonishing dossier on the LRPD. Their lawsuit names numerous officers who, like Hastings, had incredibly long disciplinary records, including for domestic abuse, excessive force, and shootings yet retained their badge and gun. The lawsuit also rattled off numerous incidents in which Little Rock officers fired their weapons into moving vehicles despite a department prohibition on doing so. In every instance but the Hastings-Moore shooting, the officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Despite all of this evidence, last month a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit rejected the lawsuit from Moore’s family. The court ruled that the family had failed to demonstrate a pattern or practice of policies, deficient training, or insufficient discipline that made Hastings’s shooting of Moore foreseeable.
Two weeks after that ruling, Little Rock police officer Charles Starks fired his weapon into a moving car, killing the driver, Bradley Blackshire. Under LRPD policy, police officers are obligated to get out of the way of moving vehicles. They cannot put themselves in a vehicle’s path, fire and then claim that the driver was using the vehicle as a weapon. It’s also improper to fire at a vehicle to prevent a driver from escaping unless that driver poses an immediate threat to others. Shooting at a moving car is also generally a reckless and dangerous act. Shooting the driver won’t stop the car, and if you’re wrong about the driver’s intent, you risk not only killing the driver, but anyone the car may strike after your bullets have incapacitated the driver.
In this case, Blackshire was suspected of stealing the car he was driving. He also refused to get out of the car when Starks ordered him to do so, and appears to have attempted to drive off when Starks pulled his weapon. But none of those acts merits a death sentence. The only justification Starks would have for killing Blackshire is if Blackshire attempted to use the car as a weapon. That’s why Starks claimed he fired only after Blackshire began to accelerate toward him and struck him. But the video pretty clearly shows that (a) the car was barely moving, (b) it was Starks who threw himself in front of the vehicle, and (c) Starks had plenty of opportunity to get out of the way. Starks has now been relieved of duty, though he is still on the LRPD payroll.
And, as it turns out, Starks, like Hastings, also has quite a disciplinary record. From the Arkansas Times:
Disciplinary records showed Starks has been reprimanded 10 times since 2015, leading to nearly a month’s worth of suspension. The incidents included two vehicle crashes, two internal investigations, one citizen complaint and five divisional issues.
A commanding officer wrote in a 2016 memo that he felt the department should terminate Starks after he got into a fight with a person inside of a movie theater and didn’t identify himself as law enforcement.
There’s also yet another recent instance of an LRPD officer shooting into a moving vehicle — one that didn’t make it into the Moore family lawsuit or into my report last fall. This one involved an officer named Ralph Breshears. In July 2017, Breshears fired his gun into a moving car as it fled a Chick-fil-A drive-through. He claimed the vehicle, which had been commandeered by a shoplifting suspect, was driving directly toward him. But surveillance video clearly showed Breshears fired into the car as it drove away.
Breshears, who retired at the end of 2017 after 26 years on the force, was arrested the following February and charged with third-degree assault. He was later acquitted by a Little Rock judge in a bench trial. (I’ve yet to see a single case in which a judge has convicted a police officer of a crime committed while on duty.)
I did mention Breshears in my report last fall, though it wasn’t because of the Chick-fil-A shooting. I mentioned him for two other reasons. The first reason is his disciplinary record. From the article:
By the time he retired late last year, according to police records, Breshears had been disciplined numerous times, including for multiple car accidents. He was involved in two shootings. He had at least 12 citizen complaints of excessive force against him that were ruled unfounded or unsustained, as well as five complaints for threats or verbal abuse, two complaints for theft, and one for racial profiling. Breshears was actually fired in 2002 after making an illegal arrest, then lying about the incident in his police report. He sued, won back his job, and was reinstated. He was then disciplined again in 2005 for hog-tying a handcuffed man, and then again in 2006 for failing to activate his dash cam . . .
. . . Breshears went on to have misconduct charges against him sustained again in 2009, and then again in 2010.
Then there’s the other reason I mentioned Breshears in my article last fall: Breshears was Josh Hastings’s field training officer. When Hastings was a fresh, green recruit in 2006, it was Ralph Breshears — who by then had been fired for lying about an illegal arrest and then rehired with help from the police union — who showed him the ropes.
But rest easy, Little Rock. Three federal judges have told us there’s nothing awry at the LRPD.