The Little Rock Police Department's three assistant chiefs and seven of its 10 captains are calling on Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and the city Board of Directors to address what they described as a "very toxic, hostile and explosive work environment" created by Chief Keith Humphrey.
A letter obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that was sent to the mayor and board on Tuesday alleges that Humphrey refuses to communicate with those officers and has been verbally abusive to them and other members of the department.
"We have attempted to address these problems directly; however, since these attempts were all rebuked and ignored, we are bringing this matter to your attention. It is our hope that you will use your authority to resolve these problems immediately," the letter reads. "A dysfunctional police department cannot protect and serve the citizens of Little Rock in the manner they deserve. Please act soon."
Lt. Casey Clark, a spokesman for the Little Rock police Department, said Humphrey had no comment on the letter. Attorneys representing the city in ongoing litigation that four of the individuals who signed the letter are involved in said in a written statement that they would not address "personnel matters in a public forum."
The letter lists the names of all three of the department's assistant chiefs and 10 captains. The signers include Assistant Chiefs Wayne Bewley, Hayward Finks and Alice Fulk and captains Ken Temple, Dustin Robertson, Heath Helton, Marcus Paxton, Russell King, Sidney Allen and Michael Miller. There were not signatures from captains Max Spriggs, Ty Tyrell and Crystal Haskins.
Degen Clow, a North Little Rock attorney acting as a spokesman for the officers who signed the letter, said the individuals were in a "situation where they encountered constant resistance from the chief about trying to resolve communication issues." He said the problems had started "almost immediately" after Humphrey's commission.
"He's failed to address any of the issues that they've had," Clow said.
Clow said the department members had tried to work things out internally but that the mayor had refused to meet with them. Clow said the alleged work environment and the failure by the chief to communicate is preventing officers from doing their jobs effectively.
At Tuesday evening's board meeting, Ward 5 City Director Lance Hines called on Scott to remove Humphrey from his post.
"When a chief becomes bigger news than the department itself, it's time for a change," Hines said, adding that he had already been vocal about his lack of faith in Humphrey's leadership.
"I respectfully decline," Scott answered.
After the meeting, Scott refused to answer questions from an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter about the concerns discussed in the letter.
"I don't discuss personnel matters," he said repeatedly. "Because it's confidential."
City directors did not discuss the letter publicly at Tuesday's meeting beyond Hines' statements.
Reached by phone, three other city directors said they found the letter concerning and noteworthy that the department's highest-ranking members had signed it.
"It's pretty telling that when you have three assistant chiefs and almost all of the captains are experiencing some sort of issues with the current police chief. It's disappointing," Vice Mayor B.J. Wyrick, who represents Ward 7, said. "They're the top leaders in our Police Department, and if they're feeling these type of explosive behavior tactics, then that's going to descend down to our rank-and-file police officers."
Wyrick said she hoped the board would call for a review of the police chief. Scott called for a top-to-bottom review of the department in May, but Wyrick said she believed that only Humphrey was in need of review and that Scott had declined.
"The mayor has been resistant. He's continued to say that it's our rank and file that are the problem," she said.
At-large City Director Gene Fortson said by phone that he found the letter distressing.
"It's obvious that there are some problems that need to be resolved," he said. "I think anytime you have people in your top management file litigation against the head of the department, that's indicative of a problem. This sort of goes beyond that. So many people are involved. It's distressing."
At-large City Director Joan Adcock said by phone that the department's problems were not solely a personnel matter, but a public safety one. She added that she knew how seriously the signers of the letter took their jobs and that they did not take it lightly, and neither would she.
"It's not a stupid high school boy that signed that they didn't like the coach. It's men who put their lives on the line for us, and they put their lives every day on the line for us. And this was a very serious step for them, and I have a lot of respect for them, and I can just imagine how much they're hurting over there," Adcock said.
Other city directors, including Ward 1's Erma Hendrix, Ward 2's Ken Richardson, and Ward 6's Doris Wright have said previously that they supported Humphrey and would not discuss the chief.
Little Rock Black Police Officer Association spokesman Lt. J.C. White said the association still supports Humphrey as the chief. Ninety percent of the association's membership of more than 110 officers previously said they did have confidence in Humphrey.
According to White, the association believes that the issues surrounding Humphrey stem from the firing of then-officer Charles Starks, who fatally shot Bradley Blackshire during a traffic stop in February 2019. Starks was ordered reinstated by a Pulaski County circuit judge but resigned last week.
Police need to be held accountable, White said.
"The majority of the membership had some questions about the shooting itself, but we felt that the chief was well within his rights to do what he did," White said. "As you see, he was one of the very first to react so quickly after the incident. It was something that you saw not only in Minnesota with the George Floyd deal, but it's happening throughout the country."
Floyd was a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May. His death has sparked a wave of protests against police brutality in Little Rock and across the nation.
The association, according to White, thinks bringing the issues with the chief forward during the covid-19 pandemic may be harmful to the department.
"We feel that bringing this out now, these lawsuits, during such a pandemic and trying times in our country is probably not the most opportune time to do so," White said. "We're sure that they have their reasons in doing it, but we still support Chief Humphrey."
Humphrey, to Black Police Officer Association members, has had an uphill battle to push an agenda across and should be given the benefit of the doubt, according to White.
"It's kind of difficult when the deck is stacked against you from Day One to try to push your agenda across, and we understand that, but we still think that he deserves a fair [shake] just as any other chief that comes into this department," White said. "He's fighting for equality of all officers and opportunities. He listens to both sides of the table -- not only his officers but also that of the community."
Clow and Chris Burks, who are both attorneys at wh Law, said the three listed command staff members who did not sign chose not to because of fear of retaliation.
According to White, some of those may not be in agreement with the rest of the command staff.
"They're just as much responsible for the welfare of the citizens of Little Rock and the police officers in the department," White said. "It falls on everyone at the command staff level. So for them to come out and solely point the finger at the chief, we as the BPOA feel that they also have some responsibility in that also."
In a vote taken in late May and early June, 83% of the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police membership passed a no-confidence vote in the chief. Fraternal Order of Police President Ronnie Morgan said at the time that the chief should be "held to the same, if not higher, standards than any other member of this department."
Morgan declined to comment Tuesday on the letter.
Former Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey voiced support for the police chief during the city board meeting's public comment portion Tuesday night. The former judge said he believed the police chief has been "subjected to some harsh and incendiary criticism" since he started, and that there is an effort afoot to sabotage his leadership.
Marion Humphrey also noted that more than half of officers who signed the letter live outside Little Rock, and that the department could not have a "dictatorship from people who don't even bother to live in the city."
"I think our chief is doing a wonderful job," he said. "Chief Humphrey is an honorable man. ... We hope that this board will be fair to him as well as those who have differences."
Months before Tuesday's letter was issued, members of the Police Department began pursuing litigation against the police chief related to alleged retaliation in the aftermath of the investigation into the fatal shooting of Blackshire by Starks.
At least four of the individuals who signed the letter on Tuesday -- Finks, Fulk, Russell and Paxton -- have sued the chief within the past six months.
To date, Bewley is the only assistant chief who has not sued Humphrey. Bewley, Finks and Fulk did not respond to emails requesting comment Tuesday.
In April, Finks and Fulk sued the chief in separate lawsuits, along with other members of the Police Department.
In her lawsuit, Fulk and Lt. Christina Plummer accused the chief of retaliation and discrimination, which they said followed Fulk's testimony during the investigation into the shooting death of Blackshire and the subsequent firing of Starks.
Fulk testified before the Little Rock Civil Service Commission in July 2019 that the investigation into Starks' shooting of Blackshire was rushed.
Likewise, in Finks' lawsuit, he accused the chief of retaliation for testifying that the Blackshire investigation was rushed. Finks was joined in the suit by his brother, Sgt. Duane Finks, and another colleague, Sgt. Reginald Parks. Duane Finks and Parks said they were abruptly transferred to patrol from their positions overseeing the School Resource Officer program.
In a lawsuit filed on May 5, King, two other sworn officers and a civilian employee accused Humphrey of denying them access to their personnel records. Attorneys for the plaintiffs accused the police chief of denying them access to the records "because they do not want Plaintiffs to learn details of the retaliatory discipline against them."
An amended complaint filed on Monday in the lawsuit says that Humphrey ordered two of the officers suing him in that case, Sgt. Christopher McCauley and Lt. Rusty Rothwell, to be relieved of duty on Sept. 7 against the recommendation of the chain of command. The amended complaint also reiterated earlier claims against Humphrey.
Asked about the allegation that McCauley and Rothwell were relieved of duty on Humphrey's orders, Clark wrote in an email, "I am unable to comment on any ongoing internal investigation."
Clark also said Humphrey had no comment on any ongoing litigation.
In June, attorneys for the city wrote that the plaintiffs' disciplinary files had been released to them in early May, days after the complaint was filed, once aspects of the disciplinary files had been closed or completed. The city asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit for failing to state a claim.
In his lawsuit filed on May 28, Paxton accused Humphrey of transferring him from his position supervising the training division after testimony during the Starks investigation by one of Paxton's sergeants in the division.
Clow and Burks are representing the assistant chiefs and the other officers in all four lawsuits.
Fulk and Finks were finalists for chief's job but were ultimately passed over when Scott selected Humphrey, the chief of police in Norman, Okla., at the time.
In a statement on Tuesday, three attorneys representing the city in the ongoing litigation declined to address "personnel matters in a public forum."
Attorneys R. Justin Eichmann, Thomas N. Kieklak and Susan Keller Kendall said, "Further, as these lawsuits have been filed in various courts in Pulaski County, we are addressing the allegations in the courts where the facts and law may be properly evaluated. Aside from these facts in this statement, engaging in these personnel issues at this time and outside of the courts where the lawsuits have been filed is inappropriate and will be avoided."