Diane Whitehead: A life in limbo
It’s been three years since the fatal shooting of James Whitehead who was killed by an Orange off-duty police officer in the parking lot of O-Reilly’s Auto Parts Store on 16th Street.
During a recent candle light remember the fallen soldier, family member and friend, about 25 people arrived to talk about James and light a candle to honor him.
Diana Whitehead, mother of James Whithead, has tried to move forward but her life is in limbo as she waits for justice to be served and she makes a life for herself.
Whitehead was shot and killed in July 2010 by Robert Arnold. Whitehead had tried to return an auto part at the store, but the store manager would not accept the part back. Arnold who was in the store with his 14-year-old daughter attempted to intervene when Whitehead became loud and belligerent.
Although 9-1-1 had been called there was an altercation in the parking lot. As a result, Whitehead, who was unarmed, was shot in the chest as he sat in the front seat of a pickup truck attempting to leave, according to reports. The bullet pierced his heart and he died at the scene. He was transferred to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
An investigation into the matter was conducted by the Texas Rangers. The case was turned over to the Orange County Grand Jury. They decided to “no-bill” Arnold of any charges.
Arnold was sent a letter of indefinite suspension from former OPD Chief Sam Kittrell in November 2010 following the shooting. In May 2011, city officials and Arnold were involved in a hearing with arbitrator, LeRoy Bartman. By July of 2011, Bartman issued his ruling in the case.
“The Grievant (Arnold) is exonerated of all charges,” Bartman wrote. “The city of Orange, Texas violated state and federal law when it deprived Captain Arnold of his ‘due process rights.’ The indefinite suspension is reversed and the disciplinary reinstatement of Captain Arnold is so ordered.”
As a result, the city filed an appeal which they won. A judge also said a new arbitrator would reside over a future hearing. However, Arnold’s attorney’s appealed the case and the decision is pending.
In addition, Arnold’s attorneys have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the city of Orange. According to court documents, the suit is for lost income, past, present and future in addition to lost benefits and loss of ability to contribute to his retirement. In addition, they are seeking damages for mental anguish and emotional distress.
Officials with OPD convened two “shooting boards” to investigate the incident. The shooting boards did not conduct an independent investigation but instead questioned Arnold. In November 2010 the board concluded Arnold had committed 10 violations of department policy, according to court documents.
As a result, Arnold’s employment was terminated.
“These alleged policy violations were mere pretext for his dismissal covering up the real reason of his dismissal, which is race,” the document reads.
In addition, the document further states no white officer of OPD has ever been terminated for using a weapon which had not been proper qualified to department procedures, or for using a weapon he had failed to register with the department. In addition, no white officer had ever been terminated for “conduct that was prejudicial to good order.”
Arnold’s attorneys also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the racial discrimination. However, according to city attorney, John Cash Smith, in March the EEOC determined there was “no discrimination.”
There is a hearing scheduled in December for the racial discrimination case.
In October 2012 a settlement was given to the Whitehead family members in a wrongful death suit.
According to Diana Whitehead, after lawyer’s fees and court costs, the family received a total of $610,000. Whitehead’s daughter HeavenLeigh, received 60 percent of the settlement which will be placed into a trust until she turns 21 years old. The remainder has been split between Whitehead’s mother, his father Vernon Whitehead and James Whitehead’s common-law wife, Karlen, at the time of the shooting.
Diana Whitehead said she received about $49,000. With the “murder money” she has tried to make something good out of something bad.
She has bought a house with the intention of turning it into a thriving business of a snack bar and game room where veterans and citizens can go and “hang out.” To honor James and his service to his country as a Marine, her brother, Robert Franken, has started painting a wall.
Diana Whitehead has also purchased a T-shirt screen printing machine. She has the needed supplies, but missing is the power source needed to run the large equipment.
The obstacles in her life have made it nearly impossible to move forward with her plans, hopes and dreams.
In the meantime, she has tried to search for a job, but feels she is “unemployable” and once people find out who she is only stare at her and don’t want to talk about her son.
“But, he’s my son,” she said. “I love him very much and he will always be a part of my life.”
She added, people she thought were her friends have stayed away too.
More than anything, she wants to see justice served. The hearings and the long wait have taken their toll. Diana Whitehead is frustrated with the system, but still is hopeful things will work out.
Diana Whitehead and her brother, Robert Franken, are by a wall that is being painted to honor her son, James Whitehead who was killed three years ago by an off-duty Orange police officer, Robert Arnold.