More than two years have passed since 28-year-old Marine veteran James Whitehead was fatally shot outside an Orange auto parts store by off-duty police Captain Robert Arnold, but the legal battles surrounding the homicide are far from over.
“I think about James everyday,” Whitehead’s sister, Brandy Boyett, said as she and her family readied for yet another birthday without her little brother around to share in the celebration. Shortly thereafter, the family was awarded in excess of $600,000 as a civil penalty against Arnold for taking Whitehead’s life the afternoon of July 26, 2010.
Boyett said she is still grieving the loss she felt when a bullet struck her brother’s chest, killing him while he sat back in the passenger’s seat of a pick-up truck at the O’Reilly Auto Parts store in Orange. Whitehead was unarmed, trying to leave the scene of a heated verbal altercation when the incident occurred, according to witness testimony and autopsy results. Boyett has relived the moment time and time again – hearing the gory details while sitting through arbitration and mediation hearings, interviews with investigators and attorneys, and while researching what can be done to bring her brother’s killer to justice.
“This whole thing has been a nightmare,” she said. Still, she can’t wake up. According to Boyett, this horrible, horrible dream won’t be over until her brother’s killer is called to account for his actions.
Hope for justice in the courtroom was all but lost when Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough brought the case before a grand jury, failing to secure an indictment on the shooter after not calling a single eyewitness to the stand. In the days following the grand jury’s “no bill,” then-Orange Police Chief Sam Kittrell released a 36-page report detailing the improper actions taken by Arnold when he shot an unarmed civilian. At that time, Arnold was placed on indefinite leave. But neither the Whitehead family nor Arnold were satisfied with the rulings. Both sides have since waged civil court battles, and a group dubbed Justice for James has been actively seeking Arnold’s criminal prosecution.
Robert Arnold petitioned for an independent arbitrator to rule on the disgraced officer’s request to be reinstated to his position on the Orange Police force. Arnold alleged his civil servant rights had been violated by investigators failing to inform the police captain that he was under investigation for the fatal shooting. The city of Orange has vigorously fought reinstating the officer.
Michael Grossi, an out-of-state police officer trainer and Arnold’s expert witness for the arbitration hearing, told the arbitrator in 2011, “I was surprised to see that he wasn’t terminated for excessive force,” but concluded, based on reading statements, that Arnold was justified in shooting Whitehead that July day in 2010. Grossi was paid between $7,500 and $8,000 for his testimony, he said. Grossi was the only witness to say Arnold had acted correctly.
Forensic pathologist and medical examiner Tommy Brown said Arnold was no more than 8 inches, possibly even less than 6 inches, from Whitehead when the fatal shot was fired.
According to John Cash Smith, the attorney representing the city of Orange during the arbitration hearing, “We believe, by more than a preponderance of the evidence, that it was a killing, not what police call a good shooting.”
Still, arbitrator/fact-finder Leroy Bartman ruled that Arnold had not been informed there was an investigation into his actions, and ordered the officer put back to work. The city of Orange appealed the ruling and has refused to put Arnold on the streets with a badge and gun.
“Arnold used incredibly bad judgment, and because of that, lives were ruined,” Smith said on behalf of the city. And because of Arnold’s actions, Smith said, Whitehead “had his life snuffed out.
“ … The gist of this from the standpoint of the city of Orange and the City of Orange Police Department — this should never have happened.”
“The Texas court system will rectify the mistake made by fact-finder Bartman,” Smith said after the first arbitration ruling sided with Arnold. The two sides were back in court Monday, Oct. 29, arguing their case before a judge in the 260th District Court. A ruling was anticipated for Wednesday, Oct. 31, but as of press time, none had been made. Check theexaminer.com for updates.