Portland Copwatch is questioning how the district attorney handled the grand jury proceedings in the Aaron Campbell shooting, suggesting that steps were taken to shield the officer involved in the fatal shooting.
In an open letter to District Attorney Mike Schrunk, Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch asks why the commanding sergeant on the scene wasn’t called to testify. The letter suggests that the actions of the Officer Ronald Frashour can’t be taken into context without knowing what sort of communications he had with his superiors.
Simply in the context of this one incident, did the Sergeant have ongoing communication with all the officers on the scene? 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?
Here’s the full text of the letter. :
District Attorney Schrunk
We read with great interest the letter issued by the grand jury in the Aaron Campbell police shooting incident. We wholeheartedly agree that the Bureau as a whole, its training and its policies are partially responsible for the tragic death of Mr. Campbell.
However, we are more seriously concerned with what appears to be a deliberate decision on your part that changed the outcome of the jury’s deliberations: They stated that they had no reason to call the on scene commander, Sgt. Reyna, because there was no reason to do so to decide whether Officer Frashour committed a crime in killing Mr. Campbell.
However, to paraphrase legal terminology applied to police use of force incidents, given the totality of the circumstances, it is unimaginable that a serious investigation into this death would not include calling the Sergeant to the stand.
–Simply in the context of this one incident, did the Sergeant have ongoing communication with all the officers on the scene? 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?
–In the broader context of Officer Frashour’s history, which we believe must be made relevant to this criminal investigation, he was criticized in open court by Chief Sizer for using a Taser on a man simultaneously to another officer using a “bean bag.”* Frank Waterhouse was videotaping officers at a salvage yard in late 2006, and Frashour said he fired the Taser because he felt Waterhouse’s camcorder could have been used as a weapon. Given Frashour’s lack of making a plan and coordinating with other officers in this earlier incident, the grand jury should have been allowed to consider that in deciding whether he was criminally negligent in shooting Mr. Campbell. After all, he appears to have unilaterally decided to use deadly force at the same time a dog was unleashed on Mr. Campbell. The civil jury awarded Mr. Waterhouse $55,000, more than the $30,000 he was asking for.
–In the even broader context of two other incidents in the last five years in which officers shot unarmed civilians in the back with AR-15 assault rifles, the incident commander should have been in charge of the entire scene. After the death of Raymond Gwerder in November, 2005, while he was on the phone with a negotiator, the police shot and wounded Lesley Paul Stewart, who was also talking to a negotiator, in August, 2007. The police have claimed that they used these two incidents to train certain officers in high-risk incident command, yet Sgt. Reyna’s testimony was not included in the hearing. Is it possible that Sgt. Reyna could also be criminally liable for Mr. Campbell’s death?
DA Schrunk, we have written to you several times before, notably after the shooting of Mr. Stewart and also after the in-custody death of James Chasse, at which time we pointed out that your office has never criminally indicted an officer for on-duty use of force. While officers are being held accountable for lying, cheating, and sexual misconduct, the community concerns about use of force go unanswered.
Finally, we raise the question to you whether you are following all the steps adopted in Multnomah County regarding SB 111. This is the third officer-involved shooting that has occurred in our county since the plan was adopted in June, 2008. We don’t recall community listening sessions being set up when a railway police officer shot George Hawkins in October, 2008, with Portland Police present, or when Portland Police shot Osmar Lovaina-Bermudez in late August, 2009.
Please let us know:
–Whether a thorough criminal review including an interview of the incident commander, the officer’s history, and the context of Portland Police trainings and shootings will be conducted;
–How you are fulfilling the terms of SB 111 and the County’s plan.
Again, we commend the grand jury for its attention to the lack of communication and training, and its conclusion that the Police Bureau bears responsibility for Mr. Campbell’s death. We just feel that they could have gone further with stronger leadership from your office.