More than a year after Portland Police Chief Mike Reese fired Officer Ronald Frashour for his fatal shooting of an unarmed black man and found the officer violated bureau policy, at least 11 bureau training instructors argue the chief was wrong.
In fact, Portland Officer Tracy Chamberlain, a lead patrol tactics instructor, was ready to testify this month in a federal case brought by Aaron Campbell’s family that any Portland officer would have acted as Frashour did, court documents show.
Campbell’s family agreed to settle their federal wrongful death suit against the city last week for $1.2 million, so the training instructors never took the stand. But Tom Steenson, attorney for the family, urged Mayor Sam Adams and the chief to address the disconnect between what they say is police bureau policy and what is being taught to the rank and file.
“I think that the command structure and the commissioner in charge and the mayor have never seriously looked at the training on the use of force,” Steenson said, “and when they finally decide to discipline somebody for use of force, they got the training thrown back in their face. It’s not new training, but the training they’ve been given forever.”
The police union has challenged Frashour’s firing before a state arbitrator. The challenge largely rests on the testimony of the same bureau instructors who say Frashour followed his training and they were never consulted before his termination. An arbitrator has not issued a ruling. As of Feb. 4, the city has spent $434,514 for outside counsel to defend the firing.
Reese and Adams declined comment Tuesday, citing the ongoing arbitration. Reese, though, has previously defended his decision and the training division’s review.
In late November 2010, Reese said then-training Lt. Robert King and Lt. Dave Virtue had thoroughly reviewed police reports and consulted outside experts. “Is everyone on board? No. But I believe it was the right decision; otherwise I wouldn’t have made it,” Reese said.
On Jan. 29, 2010, Campbell, 25, distraught and suicidal over his brother’s death that day, emerged from a Northeast Portland apartment, with his back toward officers and his hands behind his head. Officer Ryan Lewton, who said he was trying to get Campbell to put his hands in the air, fired six bean bag rounds at him. Frashour fired a single shot from his AR-15 rifle at Campbell, striking the unarmed man in the back.
The chief found it was unreasonable for Frashour to believe that Campbell posed an “immediate threat” of death or serious injury. He found Frashour seemed to only focus on his AR-15 rifle without noticing what was going on around him, and refused to acknowledge that the six beanbag rounds that struck Campbell before the fatal shot could have caused a pain reaction, such as running away. The chief found Frashour never considered the possibility that Campbell was unarmed.
According to court documents, 11 Portland police training instructors, and retired Portland Officer Mike Stradley, who was Frashour’s field training officer, were ready to testify otherwise. All are, or have been, members of the same union fighting Frashour’s firing, the Portland Police Association.
Officer Nathan Voeller, a lead defensive tactics instructor, was ready to testify that Portland officers are trained that they’re not required to see a gun before using lethal force if the officer believes the suspect poses an immediate risk of death or serious injury. “They are trained they need to be preemptive,” Voeller was to testify, according to a trial memorandum filed by Frashour’s lawyer.
According to the document, Portland police are taught that if they wait to see a person pull or point a firearm, they won’t be able to react fast enough before the suspect fires.
Chamberlain planned to testify that Campbell did not react to Lewton’s beanbag shots in a “typical fashion,” and “that moving his hands towards or into his waistband while running towards hard cover (a car) was indicative of the intent to pull a handgun.”
Officer Ryan Coffey, the bureau’s lead defensive tactics instructor, was to testify Portland police are taught not to allow potentially armed suspects to “secure hard cover,” the document said. Further, police are taught that suicidal people are “frequently homicidal,” the instructors were to testify. Former defensive tactics instructor Todd Engstrom was to point out that Frashour’s sole focus as the officer with an AR-15 rifle was to provide “lethal cover.”
Coffey had objected to the bureau’s findings in a meeting with then-training Lt. Robert King, before the chief fired Frashour.
“He (Coffey) will describe the comments of multiple defensive tactics instructors expressing disagreement at that meeting and Lt. King’s response, which included that his final evaluation had to take into account the political ramifications of a Portland police officer shooting an African American in the back who turned out to be unarmed,” the trial memorandum said.