Grand jury clears cop in Campbell shooting, raises issues

From the Oregonian, February 11, 2010

Though six Multnomah County grand jurors were unanimous in finding no criminal wrongdoing by the Portland officer who shot and killed an unarmed, suicidal man, they considered it a tragedy and questioned whether officers could have taken other steps to spare Aaron M. Campbell ‘s life.

The grand jurors deliberated for about an hour late Tuesday before voting not to indict Portland Officer Ronald Frashour, who killed Campbell , 25, with one shot to the back from his AR-15 rifle Jan. 29.

Grand jurors must apply state law in determining if an officer was justified in using deadly force. State law says police can use deadly force to protect themselves or others from what they “reasonably believe” to be an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury. No Multnomah County grand jury in recent memory has indicted an officer in a fatal shooting.

On Wednesday, jurors spent much of the day drafting a letter to Police Chief Rosie Sizer that is expected to be released today.

“The grand jury has some concerns,” said Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk. “They want to communicate some things to the Police Bureau about what they listened to and what they heard.”

Campbell ‘s mother, who buried her son Wednesday, was outraged by the jurors’ findings.

“They executed my son,” Marva Davis said. “There was no reason for that officer to take a rifle and shoot him to death. They have a license to murder when they feel like it? It’s not right.”

Members of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, a group of ministers from North and Northeast Portland, plan to gather this morning on the steps of the Justice Center to seek a public inquest into the shooting.

Delay in response

Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he has not “passed judgment” on the shooting but criticized as unacceptable the delay of more than 30 minutes before police approached Campbell after he was shot. Campbell was shot at 6:08 p.m., and the tactical squad wasn’t activated until 10 minutes later. The squad arrived 36 minutes after the shooting and were the first to check on the wounded man. At 6:51 p.m., he was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The time gap between when he was shot and when he was approached was too long,” Saltzman said. “I don’t think we need to have a performance review board tell us that. Clearly, we need to be able to check the medical status of someone who could still be alive, sooner than what had happened in this situation.”

As a result, Saltzman directed the chief to use federal asset forfeiture money to order ballistic shields for all police sergeants so they don’t have to wait until the tactical squad arrives to approach a wounded suspect. The shields cost $2,000 to $3,000. Detective Mary Wheat, a Police Bureau spokeswoman, said the bureau is choosing a manufacturer and training for sergeants begins in March.

Schrunk’s chief deputy district attorney also filed a motion Wednesday asking the court to publicly release the transcripts of the grand jury hearing. Saltzman pressed for the release of the transcripts last week, part of a pledge he made to Campbell ‘s family to ensure a “full, transparent” investigation.

If the court grants the motion, the transcripts are not expected to be available until next week.

The Police Bureau’s internal affairs division also will begin an inquiry into whether officers followed bureau policy and training. Campbell is the third unarmed man shot in the back by police in the past five years and the second to be killed.

Ministerial alliance input

Frashour shot Campbell at the Sandy Terrace Apartments, where police were called on a report of a suicidal, armed man. Family said Campbell was distraught over the death of his younger brother, Timothy Douglass Jr., 23, that morning. Douglass had died of heart and kidney failure.

Campbell ‘s girlfriend was outside the apartment when police arrived, and three children soon came out unharmed.

Witnesses say Campbell came out, walking backward toward police with his hands behind his head, mouthing off to police. One officer fired six beanbag shotgun rounds at Campbell , saying he refused commands to put his hands in the air. Nine seconds later, Frashour fired his rifle, saying he saw Campbell reach toward the back of his waistband and start running toward an alcove in the complex.

Davis, Campbell ‘s mother, said her son was complying.

” Aaron had his right to change his mind and surrender, and that’s what he did, turn around with his hands on his head,” she said. “The police provoked him to move. They started shooting him in his back with the beanbags, so he had to react to the impact of those. When the grand jury doesn’t stand up for what is right, they’re just as guilty as the police.”

Pastor LeRoy Haynes, vice president of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, said it is considering seeking a federal civil rights inquiry and will call for special prosecutors in police shootings, having lost faith in the current process.

“There’s a sentiment we will not get any justice through the local grand jury system,” Haynes said.

Sgt. Scott Westerman, police union president, blasted Sizer for remaining silent in the wake of the shooting and not explaining police training to the public.

“The public expects the officer to wait until they see a gun. We are not trained that way, because if we wait until we see a gun, it’s too late and someone is likely to get hurt and killed,” he said.

Sizer had no comment.

The grand jury met over two days and worked into the night Tuesday, agreeing to order sandwiches as they heard testimony until about 7:30 p.m.

A grand jury usually includes seven members. This grand jury began with seven, but one member could not be present the second day, when the bulk of the approximately 30 civilian and police witnesses were called.

Prosecutors obtained a court order to allow six grand jurors to serve. Five of seven grand jurors are required for a grand jury ruling.