LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A Little Rock police officer is fighting for his badge after being fired in a termination that a human resources investigator later called retaliation by the city’s police chief.
The city claims former officer David Mattox was too involved in the investigation where a man was accused of repeatedly exposing himself to women in west Little Rock and the Heights neighborhood.
Former Little Rock Police Department officer Aaron Mathis was the lead detective on the case, and he said Friday that during the investigation he learned an LRPD officer had a personal connection to one of the alleged victims in the case.
“I was made aware that an officer’s wife was the victim of indecent exposure,” Mathis, who has since resigned from the department, testified.
Mattox claims while on patrol, he spotted the suspect’s truck and reported it back to Mathis’ supervisor, Detective Sergeant Brittany Gunn, who has since been promoted to lieutenant.
“I would’ve ran the license plate through a system we have,” said Mathis.
Mattox’s attorney shared with the Little Rock Civil Service Commission that it took more than a month for the license plate that Mattox located to be run through the state’s crime information center, known as ACIC.
Mathis said he averages between 35-45 open criminal cases at any given time.
The city argued Mattox ran the suspect’s license plate several times in the state crime database. Lt. Rusty Rothwell, Gunn’s supervisor at the time, testified that he was notified Mattox had concerns over the detectives not following up on his wife’s case.
Rothwell said he called Mattox to explain detectives conducted a sting operation in the Heights the day before, hoping to catch the suspect. The lieutenant said that was when Mattox explained he had located a license plate while on-duty a month ago, information Rothwell said he never received.
“Truly, it was a very simple case,” Rothwell testified. “It was solved in a couple hours basically.”
Rothwell said that the next day, he and Sgt. Christopher McCluley, who has since resigned, went to the suspect’s house to conduct surveillance, where they said they observed a man matching the description of the suspect.
“There wasn’t a working file, which was unusual,” McCluley recalled.
Rothwell testified that he asked Mattox if his wife could identify the man in a photo spread, which was conducted at Mattox’s house. She was able to identify the suspect during a photo lineup and claimed she never saw the suspect’s photo prior to the lineup.
An internal affairs investigation found that she had seen the man’s photo on Facebook before the lineup, however. The city said she overheard her husband mention the suspect’s name on a phone call.
“The involvement of Officer Mattox is problematic because if you would have asked her [if she can identify the suspect], instead of him, because she’s the one who has to do the identification, not Officer Mattox, we might not be here today,” one commissioner said Friday.
Gunn told the commission that something felt off about others getting involved in one of her detective’s cases, adding that she “didn’t feel like he should step over into my squad.”
McCluley testified that Gunn was taking a promotional exam at the time of the lineup, adding that since he was the acting sergeant, there was no need to update her.
Gunn pushed back on that idea, though, noting that she was not “completely without my phone” during the exam.
The city argued Mattox was a block away during the suspect’s arrest and was at the police substation at the same time as the suspect. A lieutenant testified that Mattox had permission by a supervisor to be there, however, and should not be in trouble.
Police Chief Keith Humphrey testified the day before and said he still believes Mattox should have been terminated.
The agency has a policy that prohibits police officers from investigating most crimes in which a family member is involved.
Humphrey said Mattox’s involvement went beyond him gathering and reporting the license plate information back to the detective. Humphrey testified that Mattox ran the suspect through ACIC, drove by the suspect’s house prior to the arrest, was in view of the suspect being arrested, and then was at the substation while the suspect was.
“That is the definition of involvement,” said Humphrey.
Humphrey testified he informed Internal Affairs to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to determine if any of the suspect’s civil rights had been violated.
We reached out to the FBI but a spokesperson was unable to confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.
“The FBI takes all allegations of civil rights offenses seriously,” said bureau spokesman Connor Hagan. “We urge any Arkansan who believes they may have been a victim of a civil rights violation to contact our office directly.”
Mattox was also fired for untruthfulness.
The city argued the former officer lied when he said he did not fill out any paperwork in connection to the case.
In a follow-up interview with internal affairs, Mattox changed his story and said he did fill out a portion of the arrest deposition report (ADR).
During testimony, Mathis claimed he did not fill out any portion of the same ADR but when presented with the document, he was forced to change his testimony because he did complete a portion of the report.
Assistant Chief Crystal Young-Haskins disagreed with the officer’s chain-of-command and recommended Mattox be fired because the potential consequence in LRPD for untruthfulness is termination.
Young-Haskins testified she did not believe that Mattox would have been fired if the only accusation was him running the suspect’s information in the state system.
“I’ve seen that allegation before where officers have used ACIC and they were not terminated for that — provided that the information was not shared outside law enforcement,” she said.
Last month, Little Rock Human Resources Investigator Doctor Loretta Cochran emailed the city’s human resources director calling the firing of Mattox a ‘clear indication of racial discrimination, hostile working conditions and retaliation by Lt. Brittney Gunn, Assistant Chief Crystal Haskins and Chief Keith Humphrey.’
Cochran went on to say the officer’s firing exposes the city to an ‘ever-increasing damages award.’
After the arrest of the indecent exposure suspect, the department gave Mattox an award for his effort to locate the offender.
Mathis, Gunn, Rothwell and McCluley testified they believed the arrest was still valid. Several of them noted that the incidents had stopped after the arrest.
It takes at least four commissioners to hold a Civil Service Commission hearing. At one point Friday, it appeared that one commissioner was dozing off during witness testimony.
A lawyer for the commission said he did not think the commissioner was falling asleep but sometimes they close their eyes.
The hearing went into recess Friday and will continue at a later date.