Saturday, April 20, 2019
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Prosecutors have declined to file charges against a Little Rock police officer who fatally shot a man by firing at least 15 times into the windshield as the car was in motion.

Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley announced Friday that Officer Charles Starks won’t face charges in the Feb. 22 shooting of 30-year-old Bradley Blackshire, who was black. Police say Starks, who is white, was responding to a call after a detective confirmed the car Blackshire was driving was stolen.

In a video of the incident released last month, various angles showed Starks on the vehicle’s hood shooting at Blackshire through the windshield as the car continued to move.

Little Rock police say Starks is still being paid but not performing any departmental duties while they conduct an internal investigation.

The decision was detailed in a four-page letter from Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley to Little Rock Police Chief Keith Humphrey.

Letter From Larry Jegley to… by on Scribd

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KFSM) — Benton County prosecutor Nathan Smith has determined a sheriff’s deputy was justified in shooting a Gentry man who fired on deputies last month.

In a letter sent Friday (April 19) to Arkansas State Police and the sheriff’s office, Smith said Cpl. Matt Nading had a reasonable belief that Hasten Nathaniel Merworth had violated an order of protection, was presentably dangerous and that Merworth would imminently use deadly force against Nading.

Smith pointed to the Arkansas statute 5-2-610, which says police are justified in using deadly physical force to make an arrest or prevent an escape of someone who they believe is dangerous, or to defend themselves against someone they believe is using or will soon use deadly force.

In making his decision, Smith said he also reviewed the state police case file, dashcam video from the sheriff’s office and visited the site of the shooting.

“Based on the foregoing, the shooting, in this case, was justified under Arkansas law,” Smith said.

A sheriff’s office spokeswoman said the department was glad to have Nading back on shift.

“We were confident he would be cleared from any wrongdoing, and are thankful everyone is okay,” said Sgt. Shannon Jenkins.

Merworth, 33, had reportedly violated a protection order by showing up March 13 to his father’s house on West Mountain Road, according to a probable cause affidavit.

When deputies arrived, Merworth told them he had a gun and wanted to die. He also said he wanted deputies to leave him alone and that he loves his freedom, according to the affidavit.

Following a verbal dispute with deputies, Merworth brandished his gun. Deputies then continued to try to verbally deescalate the situation from positions of cover, according to the affidavit.

A short time later, Hasten fired his gun from inside the truck multiple times, and Nading countered with his own shots, hitting Merworth in the cheek and leg.

Deputies on scene rendered aid and Merworth was taken to a hospital in Springfield, Mo., and treated for his injuries.

Merworth was arrested in connection with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer — a Class D felony — and misdemeanor charges of violating a protection order and failure to appear.

Merworth was being held Friday (April 19) at the Benton County Jail with a $500,000 bond.

In Arkansas, Class D felonies are punishable by up to six years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

It wasn’t immediately clear when his next hearing will be in Benton County Circuit Court.

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KFSM) — A Bella Vista man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing more than $3,000 from a Bentonville bank last summer.

Damon Christian Vargas, 21, pleaded guilty last week in Benton County Circuit Court to robbery, theft of property and possession of a firearm by certain persons — all felonies.

Judge Brad Karren also gave Vargas a 20-year suspended sentence set to begin when he’s released from the state Department of Correction.

Bentonville police arrested Vargas on Aug. 11, 2018, after he robbed a Bank OZK on Southwest 14th Street. He was apprehended after a brief search.

Police said he told a teller he was armed and stole $3,200. Investigators said they didn’t find a weapon on Vargas.

An attorney for Little Rock police officer Charles Starks says that his client has been cleared by the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney and will not face criminal charges for the fatal shooting of Bradley Blackshire.

On February 22, Blackshire was shot and killed by Starks during a traffic stop near the intersection of 12th Street and Rodney Parham Road.

In dashcam footage released to the media, Starks asked Blackshire to exit the car. Starks continued to tell Blackshire to exit the car while the car moved forward. 

That’s when Starks shot at the driver side of car while in front of the moving vehicle. Starks shot several more times while on the hood of the car, firing more than 10 shots.

Attorney Robert Newcombe said he “felt from the beginning that there was no criminal conduct.”

“It’s unfortunate that a man had to die, but he made a choice,” Newcombe said. “If he had just gotten out of the car like he was ordered, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Newcombe said Starks is “relieved and pleased” with the decision.

In a letter to Chief Humphrey, Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley said the woman in the car with Blackshire told police that he was “digging around in his pocket” where she said he normally keeps his gun. Starks says he saw Blackshire move his hand down to put the car in gear, but said he “couldn’t tell if Mr. Blackshire was reaching for something.”

The woman also reportedly told police officers that Blackshire told her he shot “at the police on a previous occasion.”

Jegley said that Starks had “reasonable cause to believe that” Blackshire committed a felony.

“Even though Starks is backing up, the car does bump Starks before a shot is ever fired,” Jegley said.

Jegley said in the letter that Starks said officers are “trained to seek cover behind their vehicle’s engine block to avoid getting shot.” Starks explained that he was terrified Blackshire had a gun and Starks believed the “only safe place for him to take cover was behind his vehicle.”

“Without question, Mr. Blackshire’s vehicle is a deadly weapon,” Jegley concluded. “It is also obvious that it was moving in Stark’s direction. It will be argued that the vehicle was moving too slowly to be a threat. But the fact that it is moving at all indicates that Mr. Blackshire had his foot on the gas (at the very least it was not on the brake).”

Jegley said Blackshire’s “use of deadly force” was “as imminent as a stepped on accelerator and no different from a pulled trigger.”

Police reportedly found a loaded .45 caliber handgun inside the vehicle and .45 caliber cartridges were found in two of Blackshire’s pockets.

READ | Little Rock Mayor Scott announces LRPD, FBI investigating fatal officer-involved shooting

On Tuesday, a group protesting the officer-involved shooting spoke with Chief Humphrey on the issue. Organizers called for Starks’ termination from the police force as well as the use of body cameras by LRPD.

“I just pray that there are charges filed against the officer that killed my son because we feel that it was unjust,” said Kim Blackshire-Lee, the mother of Bradley Blackshire.

In a press release, the Little Rock Police Department said an internal investigation has been completed and will be delivered to Chief Keith Humphrey. The final decision will take “approximately” two weeks.

We will continue to update this article with new information.