PORTLAND, Ore. – Protesters took to the steps on the Justice Center in Portland Thursday morning following a grand jury’s finding Wednesday that a police officer acted within his training guidelines when he shot an unarmed man.
But grand jury members released a tersely worded 3-page statement Thursday that called the shooting death of Aaron Campbell by Officer Ronald Frashour “needless” and placed the blame for Campbell’s death on the Portland Police Bureau.
"This is not to say we found [Frashour] innocent,” the statement read in part, saying they decided they could not indict the officer on any charges.
Officer Frashour shot Aaron Campbell once in the back with an assault-style rifle during a standoff outside the Campbell's apartment at Northeast 128th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard.
Police say Campbell stopped following instructions and began to run away. It turned out Campbell was unarmed when he was shot.
Police were called to the residence to check on Campbell, whose brother, Timothy, had died earlier in the day from a heart condition.
Following the news of his brother's death, family members said Aaron Campbell went on a “bender,” was intoxicated and in mourning for his brother when he was shot.
Police said they had been called to the apartments to check on the welfare of Campbell, his girlfriend and three children after being told Campbell was suicidal and armed.
“We feel that his death resulted from flawed police policies, incomplete or inappropriate training, incomplete communication and other issues with the police effort,” the grand jury statement went on to say.
The three-page message was addressed to District Attorney Michael Schrunk.
The statement also said that the grand jury members understood that their job was not to “assess guilt, assign punishment, or try a case,” but rather to determine that if a case went to court, whether a trial jury would likely find the defendant guilty.
In the statement, the grand jury members summed up the incident by saying Officer Frashour fired his AR-15 rifle at Campbell after Campbell, who was standing with his hand raised as ordered, turned and ran, ostensibly because a canine unit (police dog) was bearing down on him, which Frashour may not have seen.
It was dark at the time of the incident. Campbell had been in verbal contact with other police officers before the shooting.
Officer Frashour testified he saw Campbell grabbing at the back of his pants and thought he was trying to get ahold of a gun. The grand jury said they interviewed over 30 people during the course of their review.
“What we found was that Officer Frashour’s actions were consistent with the relevant laws and statutes regarding the use of deadly force,” the grand jury said in their statement.
The jury ended their review by saying “no one person is responsible for this tragedy” and that “Portland deserves better” and “Aaron Campbell deserved better.”
Thursday afternoon, Portland Police chief Rosie Sizer issued a statement in response to the grand jury, saying in part:
"We have worked hard over a number of years on the Bureau's use of force investigative and review processes. Our goal for our force investigations is that they are thorough, accurate and impartial. Our goal for our review process is that it is rigorous and honest, and that it includes a focus on policies, training and practice as well as individual member performance and decision making. When the Bureau's review is complete, an independent contractor hired by the City Auditor analyzes how well we performed in meeting these goals."
Her full statement appears below this story.
Meanwhile, Dan Handelman, of Portland Copwatch, wrote an open letter to Schrunk that asked why the on-call sergeant was not called to the stand.
“Simply in the context of this one incident, did the Sergeant have ongoing communication with all the officers on the scene?” Handelman wrote. “Did she personally approve the use of an AR-15 and the location chosen by Officer Frashour? Did she give general or specific orders under what circumstances it was ok to fire without her direct command to do so? Depending on the answers to these questions, couldn't Officer Frashour be indicted for criminally negligent homicide?”
Campbell’s mother, Marva Davis, said the grand jury’s letter doesn’t go far enough and remained convinced, as do many of her supporters, that Frashour should be indicted and brought to trial.
Davis, who just buried her two sons on Wednesday, was among those at the City Hall rally protesting for change with the Portland Police Bureau.
Later, after reading the grand jury’s call for corrective action she said it still isn’t enough.
“I have no confidence in them right now, because they see there’s a problem, and they see that he took matters into his own hands and how can you have a police force go to a scene and there’s no communication?” Davis said.
The grand jury said that on the night of the incident, “no one communicated to the tactical group, at least not to officer (Ron) Frashour … that (Aaron) Campbell had specifically and emphatically said he was not going to hurt himself or anyone else.”
Additionally, the grand jury said Frashour fired the fatal shot before knowing if a police dog could successfully take Campbell down.
When asked whether police training needed to be reviewed or altered, Portland Police Association President Scott Westerman said, “There are things that need to be talked about, absolutely. Clearly there is a disconnect between the public’s expectations and the police officer’s training. The grand jury’s letter is clearly indicative of that.”
Following the grand jury’s decision, Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman asked District Attorney Michael Shrunk to take the unusual step of making testimony in the case given before the grand jury a matter of public record.
The Portland Police Department has come under fire for excessive force following the death of James Chasse, who died in police custody in 2006.
Chasse had a history of mental problems and was tackled when he ran from officers who said they saw him urinating in public.
Chasse suffered 16 broken ribs and a punctured lung during his arrest. He died on his way from the jail to the hospital.
A key officer in that case, Portland Police Officer Chris Humphreys, later fired a beanbag gun at a 12-year-old girl during a scuffle on a MAX light rail platform in November 2009.
A no-confidence vote in chief Rosie Sizer and commissioner Saltzman soon followed that controversial incident when Humphreys was suspended from duty.
The result of the no confidence vote has been kept under wraps by the officer’s union following the reinstatement of Humpheys to an administrative post.
Full text of Chief Sizer's remarks in response to the grand jury statement:
To the members of the Grand Jury:
"Thank you for your letter regarding your observations from the recent grand jury involving the officer involved shooting of Aaron Campbell. Serving on a grand jury such as this can be very difficult, and I thank you for your service to the community.
"In regard to your letter, we will take your concerns and observations into consideration during the Bureau's officer-involved shooting review process.
"We have worked hard over a number of years on the Bureau's use of force investigative and review processes. Our goal for our force investigations is that they are thorough, accurate and impartial. Our goal for our review process is that it is rigorous and honest, and that it includes a focus on policies, training and practice as well as individual member performance and decision making. When the Bureau's review is complete, an independent contractor hired by the City Auditor analyzes how well we performed in meeting these goals.
"Next week we will be releasing the detective reports regarding this shooting. At that time, we will also explain to the community the entire review process.
"Thank you again for your letter and commitment to this process."