orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

November 2, 2013

City settles lawsuit with Arnold for $600K

Tommy Mann Jr.
The Orange Leader

ORANGE — The City of Orange and a former police offer have reached an out-of-court six-figure settlement this week.

The City of Orange and former Orange Police Capt. Robert Arnold have reached a settlement to resolve a long-standing lawsuit, according to statements from law firms representing the City of Orange and Arnold. The settlement will pay Arnold $600,000.

Arnold was placed on administrative from the Orange Police Department on July 27, 2010, following the shooting of James Whitehead who died after being shot by Arnold, who was off-duty that day, at O’Reilly Auto Parts on 16th Street in Orange.

Arnold was awarded his job back in July 2011 following an arbitration hearing which concluded in May 2011, but the City of Orange appealed the ruling in August of the same year.

The press release from the law offices of Calvert, Eaves, Clarke and Stelly, LLP states the settlement was agreed upon “to avoid additional costs and the uncertainty of litigation.” The City of Orange will pay $300,000 of the settlement, while the other half of the amount will come from the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool (TMLIRP) which is the leading provider of workers’ compensation, liability, and property coverage for approximately 2,700 local governments in Texas, according to its website.

With this settlement agreement, which resolves the race discrimination claim made by Arnold in Federal Court and the appeal of his termination from the Orange Police Department in a Civil Service Appeal, both cases are dismissed.

“It remains the position of the City of Orange that Mr. Arnold was not discriminated against because of his race,” said Frank D. Calvert of Calvert, Eaves, Clarke and Stelly, LLP. “The settlement will allow the City of Orange Police Department to continue to focus upon its mission to serve and protect the public.”

John Cash Smith, the city attorney for the City of Orange, also issued a statement.

“The City of Orange is relieved this awful incident is over,” Smith stated. “The settlement documents provide that Robert Arnold will never return to employment at the Orange Police Department.”

Smith stated in the release that once Arnold was not indicted by the Orange County Grand Jury, and that Arnold had appealed his indefinite suspension from then Chief of Police Sam Kittrell, the city was “aware” of the likelihood of the disciplinary case being overturned.

“In Texas, over 65 percent of police and fire discipline cases are overturned or modified by ‘fact finders’ appointed by state law,” he continued. “For that reason, City Manager (Shawn) Oubre wisely continued to reserve Mr. Arnold’s pay package in the police department’s budget, so that if the opportunity for settlement came, the funds would be available without resorting to the City’s reserves. That is what happened. This matter is behind us and there has been no adverse effect on the City’s financial condition.”

According to Cade Bernsen of the Bernsen Law Firm in Beaumont, the settlement is one of the largest “civil rights settlements” in the history of Orange, Texas.

“During the litigation process, it was discovered that City of Orange officials purposefully withheld statements from eyewitnesses that proved James Whitehead was the aggressor on the day of the shooting and that Mr. Arnold was justified in his actions,” Bernsen stated.

Bernsen stated he believed the actions of certain city officials were intentional and aimed to paint Arnold in a negative light.

“Instead of defending their officer, former Police Chief Sam Kittrell and City Attorney Smith maliciously portrayed Captain Arnold as an out of control cop who more or less killed Mr. Whitehead in cold blood,” Bernsen continued. “They did everything in their power to ruin his career in law enforcement. They failed. Faced with the prospect of trial in federal court and a full airing of the evidence, the City of Orange settled the lawsuit forever vindicating Captain Arnold.”