Off duty OPD cop kills veteran, gets pay day

Robert Arnold

 

More than three years have passed since 28-year-old Marine veteran James Whitehead was shot dead outside an Orange auto parts store by off-duty OPD Captain Robert Arnold, but the legal battles surrounding the homicide are just now coming to a close, with the officer awarded damages totaling $600,000 for loss of employment related to the shooting.

Whitehead’s 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. Arnold killed him as he sat back in the passenger’s seat of a pick-up truck at O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store in Orange. Whitehead was unarmed, trying to leave the scene of a heated verbal altercation when the incident occurred. 

The family’s 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 while at the same time 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 Captain Arnold when he shot an unarmed civilian. At that time, Arnold was placed on indefinite leave. But neither the Whitehead family nor Arnold was satisfied with the rulings. Both sides waged civil court battles, and a group dubbed Justice for James began actively seeking Arnold’s criminal prosecution. No prosecution has been forthcoming, and Justice for James founder Ken Cavaretta said all options have been exhausted.

Robert Arnold, using civil servant amenities, petitioned for an independent arbitrator to rule on his 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, however.

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 refused to put Arnold on the streets of Orange with a badge and gun.

“Arnold used incredibly bad judgment, and because of that, lives were ruined,” Smith said of behalf of the city. And because of Arnold’s rogue actions, Smith said, Whitehead “had his life snuffed out by actions by this police officer.

“The gist of this from the standpoint of the city of Orange and the City of Orange Police Department — this should never have happened,” he stated further.

Arnold also filed a discrimination suit against the city in federal court, defended by local attorney Frank Calvert. Wednesday, Oct. 30, Calvert said an agreement had been reached between all parties on a settlement that offered Arnold cash to walk away from all litigation.

“We settled all claims to avoid additional cost and litigation,” Calvert said, adding that the $600,000 settlement will be paid in half by insurance held with the Texas Municipal Leagues and half paid by the city of Orange.

“It is in the best interest of the city … both the federal court case and the arbitration hearing will be covered, and this will allow the city of Orange Police Department to continue their official business without litigation continuing,” Calvert said.

City of Orange attorney John Cash Smith is happy the litigation is over.

He said, “It’s been a long process, but this is going to dispose of everything.”

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