Little Rock Mayor and City Manager are silent on deadline for resolution of Chief of Police investigation

Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and City Manager Bruce Moore have been silent on when they could decide on disciplinary action, if any, for Police Chief Keith Humphrey, who is the subject of a human resources investigation after police complaints.

Moore said on Friday that he had not finished reviewing the human resources documents submitted to him.

For his part, Scott has consistently declined to comment on the turmoil within the city’s police department, citing a no-response policy regarding personnel issues or ongoing litigation.

“As you know, the City does not comment on employee personnel files or investigation reports / files [sic] content or likely to appear in a personnel file, ”spokeswoman Stephanie Jackson wrote on Friday in response to questions, particularly when the mayor and city manager are considering making a decision on discipline.

She denied that Scott filed an investigative report on her desk to avoid it being made public.

In a recent Arkansas Freedom of Information Act hearing before Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox, Little Rock City District Attorney Tom Carpenter admitted that Humphrey was under investigation, but said the assessment was not yet complete.

[DOCUMENT: Read the email criticizing firing of Mattox »]

An administrative decision to suspend or terminate Humphrey upon completion of the investigation would trigger the disclosure of investigation files that might otherwise remain sealed in response to a FOIA request.

Attorney Robert Newcomb, who frequently represents police officers in court, attempted to obtain the report written by Loretta Cochran, associate professor in the Arkansas Tech University Department of Management and Marketing, responsible for investigating the complaints. police regarding Humphrey.

Cochran was hired part-time and on a temporary basis to help with a backlog of human resources reviews, Jackson said.

According to documents obtained from his personnel file by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cochran was hired on July 13, 2020 as Labor Relations Analyst II in the Human Resources Department at a rate of pay of $ 20. ‘time.

A hiring form indicated that the position was temporary.

In a job application, Cochran wrote that his goal was “[t]o provide a professional, impartial and thorough EEO [equal employment opportunity] surveys for the Town of Little Rock as required. “

[DOCUMENT: Read the Little Rock chief’s memo on the officer investigation »]

On September 10, Fox ordered the city to release certain underlying documents relating to the investigation to Newcomb, including an email in which Cochran criticized the police department’s dismissal of Officer David Mattox.

Mattox – one of Newcomb’s clients – was fired after Humphrey made lying and unauthorized investigation findings related to the search for a suspect exposing himself to individuals in Little Rock, according to a memo of Humphrey contained in court documents.

The officer’s wife is said to be one of the victims.

In an August 9 email to the city’s director of human resources, Stacey Witherell, Cochran wrote: “Just to reiterate my previous advice, I am of the opinion that the dismissal of Agent Mattox is an indication. clear of racial discrimination, hostile working conditions and reprisals. by the lieutenant [Brittany] Gunn, assistant. Chief crystal [Young-]Haskins and Chief Keith Humphrey. “

In the email, which Newcomb provided to the Democrat-Gazette, Cochran went on to say that “the ill-advised move will most likely contribute to continued destabilization of the LRPD.”

Further, she suggested that it “exposes the city to increasingly higher damages, if Constable Mattox (and / or several other LRPD staff who have been the target of harassment and retaliation) by the leader and his allies) choose to take this to court. “

“I only pray that no life is lost due to this continuing but preventative crisis,” Cochran wrote.

In response, Witherell wrote, “I shared your concerns with the city manager.”

Mattox is white. Humphrey, Gunn and Young-Haskins are black.

Through Jackson, Scott declined to comment after the court-ordered publication of Cochran’s post on Monday.

[DOCUMENT: Read the complaint filed by attorney Newcomb »]

Weighing in on a separate FOIA lawsuit filed by Newcomb, a judge wrote last month that Cochran’s 27-page final report summarizing his investigation was forwarded to Moore in July with supporting documentation from the top human resources official. from the city.

“Mr. Moore is reviewing the report and supporting documentation to prepare advice and recommendations for Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., who is the final decision-maker for the Town of Little Rock with regard to the investigation, “wrote the retiree. Judge Kathleen Bell, who replaced Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray.

Bell concluded that Cochran’s report was exempt from disclosure because no final administrative decision had been made regarding potential disciplinary action, although she wrote that some underlying documents may be disclosed to Newcomb.

In an emailed response to the Democrat-Gazette on Friday, Moore wrote: “I am still reviewing the documents that have been submitted by Human Resources at this point. So commenting further would be inappropriate.”

Moore later confirmed that any opinions or recommendations on his part regarding the HR findings would be forwarded to the mayor for a final decision.

After his inauguration in January 2019, Scott made it clear he would take a more active role as mayor with the direct supervision of six department heads, including the chief of police. The other department heads would continue to report to the city manager, Scott said at the time.

Scott chose Humphrey – then the police chief in Norman, Okla. – to serve as a chef soon after.

Since then, Humphrey has resisted a string of lawsuits by police who say he suffered retaliation in connection with the investigation into the shooting of Bradley Blackshire, who was shot and killed by then-officer Charles Starks, the February 22, 2019.

Humphrey terminated Starks, but Starks was reinstated pursuant to a court order and ultimately chose to resign last year. He too is represented by Newcomb.

According to documents in his personnel file, Humphrey was hired for the Chef At Will position at an annual base salary of $ 155,000 effective April 15, 2019.

On Wednesday, two days after the release of Cochan’s findings regarding Mattox’s termination, a federal judge dismissed a counter-suit that Humphrey filed in September 2020.

The original complaint named 21 people, including two of Humphrey’s deputy chiefs and officials from the dominant local police union, as well as the union itself and body camera supplier WatchGuard Video. Humphrey said his opponents were engaged in a plot to force him to leave.

In light of the judge’s order, Mike Laux, Humphrey’s lawyer, told the Democrat-Gazette that the complaint could be re-filed because it was dismissed without prejudice.

In an interview on Wednesday, Deputy Mayor Lance Hines criticized senior city officials for their pace in resolving the human resources inquiry.

Hines said his biggest concern after this month’s defeat of Scott’s proposed sales tax increase at the polls was not to raise the rate or renew an expiring three-eighth percent tax, but rather to “fix our police department”.

“We’ve had 50 homicides so far this year from yesterday, and we can have the nicest parks and the nicest zoo, but if people don’t feel safe coming to this city, it doesn’t ‘won’t matter,’ Hines said. “And we have a dysfunctional police chief and a violent crime problem that’s out of hand.”

Hines, Ward 5’s representative on city council, has long criticized Humphrey’s leadership in the police department. At the end of last year, he pushed members of the city’s board to vote no confidence against the leader before withdrawing the token resolution.

In the interview, Hines raised concerns about Scott and Moore’s lack of action regarding Cochran’s findings.

He said “They’ve had a report on their desk since June, and they haven’t done anything. And once an HR investigation is complete, and if the HR investigation reveals that there is wrongdoing, we are guilty if we do not take action. “

Hines added, “and I think the mayor and city manager are putting us in great legal danger by not taking any action on what they have in this report.”

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