THE STATE AGENCY that oversees Oregon cops has come down against Portland's dismissal of Ron Frashour, the officer who shot and killed a suicidal Aaron Campbell last year, clearing Frashour of "gross misconduct" and allowing him to remain certified for police work.
The ruling by the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST), issued in mid-January and obtained through a records request, is a loss for Portland police brass who argued Frashour's firing was "for cause" and should keep him from working for other police agencies and security firms in the state.
It also marks the second time since his firing that a state agency has sided against the city about further punishment for Frashour. The Mercury reported this month that the state employment department decided to award Frashour unemployment insurance ["The Check Is in the Mail," News, Feb 10], despite the city's attempt to deny him $500 a week in benefits.
Frashour, backed by the Portland Police Association, is fighting to get his job back. Hearings in front of a neutral labor arbitrator are now scheduled for September, sources confirm. And although DPSST's ruling was based on state code and not on the nuances of Portland's use-of-force policy, it offers perhaps the best hint yet at how that labor arbitrator might decide.
"You now have had three neutral bodies take a look at this case," said one observer following the case, who was also counting the Multnomah County grand jury that criticized the bureau in Campbell's January 29, 2010, shooting but did not indict Frashour. "And all of them, admittedly applying their own rule, have found that Ron Frashour did nothing wrong."
When investigating whether to strip an officer's certification, DPSST's rubric includes five main categories: dishonesty, incompetence, misuse of authority, disregard for the rights of others, and gross misconduct.
Even before studying hundreds of pages of case documents posted on the police bureau's website—including Chief Mike Reese's discipline letter outlining Frashour's troubled past—state analysts Roger Eaton and Lorraine Anglemier concluded that only the last two might apply to Frashour's case. And then they cleared him of those, too—deciding Frashour's decision to shoot Campbell wasn't a "gross deviation" from what a "reasonable professional" would have done in the same situation.
To buttress their ruling, Eaton and Anglemier quoted heavily from another document: the grand jury letter that cleared Frashour of criminal wrongdoing. In that letter, grand jurors said they found Frashour "credible and honest" and that he "genuinely believed" Campbell was armed and reaching for a weapon before Frashour opened fire.
"We found nothing inconsistent with the ultimate factual and legal conclusions reached by the grand jury," Eaton and Anglemier write in their ruling.
Neither the city attorney's office nor the police bureau would comment. Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, cheered the decision but stopped short of calling it a decisive element in the upcoming arbitration.
"He did nothing wrong," says Turner. "He followed the policy and the procedures of the Portland Police Bureau. So far things have turned out how we'd hoped, but it's just one of the factors that may be considered" in arbitration.
The police union has long insisted Frashour was justified in shooting Campbell—even though Campbell was likely reacting to a beanbag another cop fired at his back, not reaching for a gun he didn't have. Chief Reese's discipline letter noted that Frashour never considered that possibility, saying that oversight violated bureau policy requiring officers to consider the "totality of circumstances" before using deadly force.
Campbell's family has filed a separate civil lawsuit against Frashour, the city, and three other cops involved in the shooting.
Martin Henner, the arbitrator who controversially overturned Officer Douglas Erickson's dismissal after a non-fatal shooting in 1993, said city policy and how well an officer has been trained to follow that policy—not rulings by other bodies—ought to guide whoever hears Frashour's case.
"If you train a police officer to do something, and he does it," he said, "you can't fire him for doing what he was trained to do."
Erickson was the first Portland cop dismissed over the use of deadly force. He fired 22 shots at an armed man, Gerald F. Gratton Jr., who ran from police officers after they boarded a TriMet bus to arrest him. In an argument that neither a grand jury nor then-Chief Charles Moose found terribly compelling, Erickson said he thought Gratton might take hostages.
"In a way I was sorry, because I had serious doubts he would be a good police officer," Henner says, remembering that Erickson's discipline letter—like Frashour's—mentioned other acts of questionable conduct. "But my job was to figure out whether, under the collective bargaining agreement, they had good cause to terminate him."
Adds Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman, "It'd be nice to see Frashour decertified. But he's not an officer in Portland right now, and hopefully he'll stay not an officer in Portland. And that was one of the goals of the movement demanding accountability for what happened."