Portland Copwatch letter to District Attorney on Aaron Campbell
-and DA's Reply

Portland Copwatch
(a project of Peace and Justice Works)
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065 (office)
(503) 321-5120 (incident report line)

District Attorney Mike Schrunk
Multnomah County Courthouse
1021 S.W. Fourth Avenue, Room 600
Portland, OR 97204

February 11, 2010

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.


Dan Handelman
Portland Copwatch

* see http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/not-policing- themselves/Content?oid=1695014

Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2007 16:17:02
From: Portland Copwatch
To: District Attorney Michael Schrunk
Cc: News Media
Subject: Urging a Grand Jury investigation in the Leslie Stewart shooting

District Attorney Mike Schrunk
Deputy District Attorney Traci Anderson
Multnomah County Courthouse
1021 S.W. Fourth Avenue, Room 600
Portland, OR 97204

August 31, 2007

OPEN LETTER RE: Grand Jury in Leslie Stewart case

District Attorney Schrunk and Deputy DA Anderson:

We urge you to convene a grand jury hearing in the police shooting of Leslie Stewart.

You told the Oregonian that your office generally does not hold grand jury hearings in officer shootings if "no one was injured." Mr. Stewart was injured, however minor it may be, either directly or indirectly by the bullet.

Regardless, the Oregon State Statute governing police use of deadly force requires that officers reasonably believe that there is an imminent threat to them or to another person. It does not require that the officer's use of deadly force result in an injury or death.

Therefore, if Officer Stephanie Rabey's shot through a window at Mr. Stewart was not justifiable under the statute, a crime has been committed.

Because the Attorney General's plan for County response procedures to be developed for police shootings and deaths, we hope that your office will make a commitment to investigate and hold a grand jury hearing on every case where officers discharge weapons toward other human beings in the line of duty.

Please reconsider this decision, as it is crucial for the public to believe that our officers are being held to the strictest standards as they are given the power of life and death over the community.


Dan Handelman
Portland Copwatch

Alejandro Queral,
NW Constitutional Rights Center

October 2, 2006

District Attorney Schrunk:

We are writing to you today to urge you to present an aggressive and thorough case before the grand jury convening tomorrow in the case of the police in-custody death of James Chasse Jr.

By the accounts we have read of this case, Mr. Chasse:
--was unarmed
--was not posing a threat of serious bodily injury or death to police or the public
--suffered from mental illness
--died as a result of his inability to breathe caused in part by blunt force trauma
to the chest during the struggle with police

Those same accounts indicate that the police officers involved:
--kicked Mr. Chasse in the head
(as noted in the Portland Police directive on deadly force, the use of body parts can
constitute the use of deadly force)
--Tasered Mr. Chasse repeatedly
(an October, 2005 training memorandum warned against multiple uses of
the Taser in part because "Repeated, prolonged and/or continuous exposure
on the subject to the TASER electrical discharge may cause strong muscle
contractions. These muscle contractions, especially if probes are placed across
the chest and diaphragm, may impede breathing and respiration.")
--lay Mr. Chasse on his chest and "hog-tied" him despite his difficulty in breathing
--made the determination to take Mr. Chasse to jail rather than the hospital.

All of the above indicates that even if the officers did not intend to kill Mr. Chasse, they should have known that their actions could cause his death. It seems reasonable that a jury could indict the officers for criminally negligent homicide.

Your office has come under great scrutiny over the past few years in other cases which involved unarmed civilians dying at the hands of the police. To our knowledge there has never been an indictment of an on-duty officer for excessive use of force in Portland. In the last high-profile case, of James Jahar Perez, your office accepted paid testimony from a biased "expert" on police shootings to speak of "action-reaction" theories, which probably swayed the outcome of that case.

Attorney General Hardy Myers, when looking at the issue of deaths in police custody in 2005, recommended that transcripts of grand juries in these cases be released publicly. The Oregon Senate passed a bill to allow that transparency to happen, but the bill never made it to the house floor.

We would like to thank you for apparently agreeing with the Police Assessment Resource Center, which has been studying shootings and deaths in custody by the Portland Police, who recommended that deaths in custody be treated with the same procedures as police shootings. We hope it is never a question whether a death in custody should be presented to a grand jury.

Many members of the public are aware that the District Attorney's office has a very close relationship with the police and is thus reluctant to bring charges. It seems to us that an aggressive and thorough presentation of the facts in this case might lead to an indictment and the end of speculation that your office has a serious conflict of interest when considering police shootings and deaths in custody.


Dan Handelman
Portland Copwatch

Michael D. Schrunk, District Attorney
1021 S.W. Fourth Avenue, Room 600
Portland, Oregon 97204-1193
Phone: 503-988-3162 Fax: 503-988-3643 www.mcda.us

                         February 12, 2010

Mr. Dan Handelman
Portland Copwatch

Dear Mr. Handelman:

    Thank you for your email of yesterday.

    Testimony regarding the events surrounding the use of deadly force by Officer Ronald Frashour was received by the Multnomah County grand jury from some thirty witnesses on Thursday, February 4, 2010, and Tuesday, February 9, 2010.

    The hearing on the February 9, 2010, began at 8:30 a.m. and the grand jury, at their request, continued to hear witnesses through the noon hour and into the evening. Among the witnesses who testified was Sgt. John Birkinbine who was on the scene, assisting with contacting Aaron Campbell, and playing a much more direct role than Sgt. Reyna in the events that led to his death.

    The grand jurors did not request to the hear the testimony of Sgt. Reyna and it was apparent from the investigative interviews with her that she had nothing to add regarding the incident that had not already been testified to by Sgt. Birkinbine and other witnesses.

    Sgt. Reyna did not see the use of deadly force and her account of the call itself was testified to by several other witnesses. Your speculation on actions she took that might have been relevant to Officer Frashour's use of deadly force is not validated by actual events nor is your speculation that she was criminally responsible for the death that occurred.

    As the grand jurors clearly stated in their letter of February 10 they did not need her testimony to resolve the issue before them regarding potential criminal liability arising from the shooting. Their thought that her testimony might have relevance to other issues was, as I indicated, not shared with us until they were discharged from duty and is belied by the investigative interview with Sgt. Reyna.

    This office sought a court order to record the entire grand jury proceeding and is actively seeking the release of that recorded testimony. A hearing on the matter is scheduled and I am cautiously optimistic that the court will order the release next Wednesday or Thursday. Perhaps if you are able to review the sworn testimony before the grand jury you will have a fuller understanding of the actual events.

Page 2                                      February 12, 2010    

    It is, of course, true that police officers are rarely criminally charged for the use of deadly force on duty; it is also true that homeowners are rarely criminally charged for the use of deadly force against intruders. Over the years, I have observed that Oregon's criminal laws regarding self-defense and the defense of others play a significant role in these results. Perhaps you might direct your attention to any desirable modification of those laws.

    This office has vigorously implemented Senate Bill 111. The Multnomah County plan we participated in developing regarding use of deadly physical force does not call for a particular response to specific uses of deadly force by police. At the same time, the plan, which was implemented at the end of 2008, does call for outreach programs for law enforcement and community members and an annual continuing legal education program for this office. Pursuant to the plan, a video presentation has been created that has been shown to every sworn law enforcement officer in this county. The annual CLE in this office has taken place and my staff, prior to this incident, was discussing the implementation of a community outreach program which I anticipate will take place later this year.

    The use of deadly force by the police is a matter of continuing community concern. I strongly support the release of information which will aid the public in understanding the events which lead to the death of Aaron Campbell. That is why I have supported legislation to require recordation and public release of grand jury testimony in all such matters. That is why I have taken the unprecedented step of asking the court to release such testimony in this matter.

                         Very truly yours,

                         MICHAEL D. SCHRUNK
                         District Attorney

Posted February 26, 2010

Back to Shootings and Deaths page
Back to Copwatch home page