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JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OPENS PROBE OF PORTLAND POLICE

 

 

 

By NWV News writer Jim Kouri
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
June 10, 2011
2010 NewsWithViews.com

NewsWithViews.com dispatched a news reporter to cover press conferences dealing with a federal investigation of the Portland, Oregon, police department and allegations of police brutality and cruelty by officers in that department. The following is an NWV exclusive report:

PORTLAND, OREGON -- The U.S. Justice Department hosted a press conference and teleconference on Wednesday announcing that it has opened a civil rights investigation into allegations of use of excessive force by members of the Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau (PPB). The DOJ is planning to utilize the pattern or practice provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, according to Assistant Attorney General Thomas A. Perez.

According to police documents, a Portland police officer shot and killed Aaron Campbell on January 29, 2010 during a confrontation at an apartment complex.

Campbell died from a gunshot wound that came from an officer's AR-15 rifle, according to the police report.

Officers were called to investigate a report of a suicidal man who was armed with a gun. Police claimed that Campbell's girlfriend made the 911 call and told the dispatcher that Campbell was with her friend's children inside an apartment. When officers arrived, they spoke with Campbell's girlfriend and then made contact with Campbell via his cell phone while they waited for him to come out of the apartment.

Nearly two hours after the police officers arrived, Campbell abruptly emerged from the apartment, according to documents. At first, it appeared he would comply with officers but police said his actions suddenly changed and that he told the officers they would need to shoot him.

One officer fired a bean bag round at Campbell but authorities said he didn't comply with the officer's directions and more bean bag rounds were fired. Police officers interviewed by Internal Affairs said a lethal cover officer then fired his rifle "in response to perceived threatening actions."

Because Campbell was believed to be armed, police had waited for a Special Emergency Response Team to arrive before they approached the injured suspect. SERT medics showed up 23 minutes later and pronounced Campbell dead at the scene.

According to documents, Campbell's criminal history included weapons charges and resisting arrest. He also had an active restraining order that prohibited him from carrying a gun.

Several people interviewed stated that Campbell was mentally disturbed at the time of the shooting.

According to Perez, the Justice Department will seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution or federal law by officers of the Portland Police Department.

During the course of the investigation, the Justice Department will consider all relevant information, particularly the efforts that Portland has undertaken to ensure compliance with federal law. The Justice Department has taken similar steps involving a variety of state and local law enforcement agencies, both large and small, in jurisdictions such as New York, Ohio, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Louisiana and California, said Perez.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Oregon are jointly investigating the allegations of police misconduct.

Recently, the Justice Department had conducted a preliminary review of the Portland Police Bureau. The Civil Rights Division, in partnership with U.S. Attorney Dwight C. Holton, reviewed the facts and determined that allegations regarding excessive force, particularly recent incidents between the PPB and people with mental illness, warrant further review, under the DOJ's civil pattern or practice authority.

INTERNAL AFFAIRS

Following the shooting of Aaron Campbell, Portland Mayor Sam Adams demanded then Chief of Police Rosie Sizer. She was replaced by Chief Michael Reese who conducted his own investigation and meted out punishment.

While Chief Reese was unavailable for comment, NewswithViews.com was directed to his prepared statement:

"I have decided the use of force and less lethal force were out of the Bureau’s policy. Therefore, the following discipline decisions are as follows: Officer Ron Frashour will be terminated; Officer Ryan Lewton will receive an 80-hour unpaid suspension; Sergeant Liani Reyna will receive an 80-hour unpaid suspension and Sergeant John Birkinbine will receive an 80-hour unpaid suspension.


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"I arrived at these decisions by carefully reviewing the Detectives investigation, the Grand Jury transcripts, Internal Affairs review and transcripts, the Training Division’s analysis and the Commander’s findings and recommendations.

"My decision was based on the significant policy violations and performance issues that occurred during this incident. This was a difficult decision because ultimately, I believe each Bureau member involved was attempting to do their best to resolve a complex situation. However, as Chief, I must address the significant issues that were brought forth in the Bureau’s internal reviews and hold the involved members accountable.

"The Bureau is also ensuring that those members who are selected and trained to carry an AR-15 rifle have undergone a comprehensive performance evaluation and that the training reinforces the Bureau’s Use of Force Directive as it relates to the totality of circumstances. Finally, this incident highlighted the breakdown of communication that can occur during an incident such as this. I have asked the Training Division to review training scenarios to ensure they construct a need for situational awareness and ensure that members are trained in identifying the totality of circumstances as required by the Bureau’s Use of Force Directive."

FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS INVESTIGATION

According to the DOJ, in the past 18 months, there was a significant increase in officer involved shootings, and the majority involved persons with mental health issues.

"We have completed the review, for instance, of the shooting of Aaron Campbell and determined that it does not constitute a prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights laws," said Perez during the press conference.

"We met with the family of Mr. Campbell on Monday to notify them of our findings. While our criminal review has concluded for this particular matter, our broader, civil review has led me to authorize a full investigation focusing on the excessive force issues under DOJ’s pattern or practice authority under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994," Perez stated.

The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section conducts civil pattern or practice investigations to determine whether there are systemic problems in a police department’s practices and procedures that are resulting in the violation of people’s basic rights under the Constitution and laws of the United States.

Over the last 15 years, the Division has brought in teams of seasoned attorneys, staff and law enforcement experts to work collaboratively with police departments and communities across the country to address systemic problems and identify and implement comprehensive solutions that accomplish three goals: 1) reduce crime, 2) protect the rule of law, and 3) enhance public confidence in law enforcement.

"I have put together a top notch team of lawyers and staff for this investigation. We are retaining experts in policing and mental health and will be reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders, including people within the PPB, people elsewhere within Portland’s administration, key stakeholders in the criminal justice system, and the community at large," stated Perez.

"Our investigation will be thorough, fair, independent, and it will also be collaborative. We will be engaging a wide array of community stakeholders. I appreciate the cooperation of the Mayor and the chief, and look forward to learning from the police department and community stakeholders" he added.

Earlier this year, Assistant Attorney General Perez was blasted by many conservatives following his controversial decision to not charge members of the New Black Panther Party who were accused of voter intimidation during the 2008 presidential election that saw Barack Obama elected to the nation's highest office.

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“While we all want to see cops who use excessive force punished and terminated from their jobs, how much comfort can we expect in having federal law enforcement officials investigating brutality and civil rights violations,” said former New York police detective Mike Snopes.

“Have we forgotten the excessive forced used against mentally disturbed people at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas? That was one of the worst – if not the worst example of police brutality in American history,” Snopes said.

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According to documents, Campbell's criminal history included weapons charges and resisting arrest. He also had an active restraining order that prohibited him from carrying a gun.

 

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