A LONG-FESTERING FEUD between Portland's rank-and-file police union and city hall over Mayor Sam Adams' refusal to rehire Ron Frashour—the cop fired for fatally shooting Aaron Campbell in 2010—has exploded, rather brilliantly, into public view.
The controversy—with insinuations about dishonesty, incompetence, "character assassination," and "bullying"—sheds new light on an arbitrator's ruling this spring that Frashour's shooting of Campbell was justified.
It touches on the larger question of whether it's the police bureau's training, and not its discipline policy, that needs to change. And it also comes during a crucial moment for the city, which is currently trying to convince the state's Employment Relations Board that ignoring the arbitrator's ruling is justified.
The row, first reported by the Mercury, started on Tuesday, June 5. Portland Police Association (PPA) President Daryl Turner posted a withering article on the union's online newsletter that all but accused a top police training official of lying during the arbitration hearing—and, for good measure, blasted the city for a political crusade gone "terribly wrong."
"I've heard a lot of the offered theories," Turner wrote. "Many start with the belief that Mayor Adams, who months before he became police commissioner... made it clear to Chief [Mike] Reese, possibly before his appointment as chief, that Officer Frashour would have to be fired."
The next afternoon, Adams and Reese fired back.
"Enough is enough," Adams said in a statement crafted while he was in a city council meeting. "The Portland police union's rant should be disregarded."
But by Thursday, June 7, after the Oregonian and the Mercury had obtained transcripts from the arbitration hearing that appeared to back up Turner's claims, Adams announced he'd asked the city's auditor, LaVonne Griffin-Valade, to review the testimony.
The transcripts, just a fraction of the thousands of pages compiled in the Frashour arbitration hearing, provide devastating fodder. They focus on the testimony of Lieutenant Robert King, a former PPA president whose training review of the Campbell shooting served as the basis for Frashour's dismissal ["Fire Frashour? Done," News, Nov 18, 2010].
Turner's article pounded King, later promoted to Reese's top spokesman, for giving testimony "riddled with inconsistencies, factual mistakes, and contradictory explanations."
And, moreover, Turner accused King of letting bureau commanders shape the review, not bureau trainers—most of whom testified they thought Frashour did exactly as he was taught when he shot Campbell in the back.
In fact, during the hearing, King was forced to take back testimony—under cross-examination by PPA attorney Will Aitchison—in which he claimed he consulted with the trainers before forming his conclusion.
He met with trainers after he made his findings and told them, according to Turner, that "the elephant in the room is the fact that we shot and killed an unarmed black man."
King explained that decision by echoing findings in a recent outside study of Portland police shootings ["Will They Ever Learn," News, June 7]. He said he thought trainers reviewing past shootings were "fundamentally unwilling" to second-guess officers' split-second decisions on using deadly force.
King also was forced to acknowledge writing several drafts of the training review in which he found Frashour had followed police bureau policy. It wasn't until the last few versions of the review, one of which came with an email from the chief's office saying "Changes I've Made," that King found Frashour out of policy.
"I was a probationary lieutenant at the time, and I contemplated demoting. I thought that I should revert to being a sergeant because I didn't want to take a position against an officer that would be harmful to him and his career, that could result in his termination," said King, who fatally shot a man who'd stabbed him after a traffic stop in 1991. "I'd been with officers throughout the course of my career who have made those difficult decisions, and I've been with them, and didn't want to see them harmed."
That line of questioning came with some drama—not the least because of the fact that King and Aitchison had worked together for eight years, up until 2008. The transcripts don't indicate it, but sources familiar with the arbitration say King was crying as he explained himself.
The arbitrator, Jane Wilkinson, also had to admonish King and the pricey private counsel representing the city after they admitted discussing, during a half-hour break in the middle of Aitchison's cross-examination, how King should testify.
Aitchison, at one point when King was on the stand, came close to putting a bow on the conspiracy theory that Turner's article referenced.
"I want to be very careful in choosing my words about all of this. As these drafts are being written, and as Lieutenant King changes his mind, the police chief [Rosie Sizer] is fired, we get a new police chief, appointed by a mayor who has already passed judgment on Officer Frashour. The timing of this I think is significant."
King has declined to comment on the accusations. Reese, in his statement on June 6, denied ever discussing Frashour's termination as a condition for his becoming chief. Court documents from the civil case over the Campbell shooting, which saw the city agree to pay out a $1.2 million settlement, show Reese and Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea were prepared to testify under oath that they hadn't influenced King's training review.
Turner's article also takes aim at Reese and O'Dea, citing arbitration testimony in which they also contradict their own trainers. Both say, in an assertion that Turner calls "shocking," that cops should shoot someone only if they see a gun. Reese also said he was told that the trainers who disagreed with King were "disgruntled."
The city isn't happy about Turner's article or about the emergence of partial transcripts. Arbitration materials were supposed to remain sealed, officials say, at least until the Employment Relations Board fight is settled. That case, meanwhile, is moving along. On Friday, June 8, the city's private attorneys filed a legal brief that called Frashour an ongoing threat to the public.
Looming behind all of this is the reality that contract talks with the PPA are due to start up again next year. Adams won't be around by then, but Reese might still be. And Turner's grenade won't be forgotten.
"It's unfortunate that the relationship between management of the police bureau and the leadership of the PPA has deteriorated," Reese wrote to Turner. "Your article further erodes that relationship."
For a more detailed version of this story, see portlandmercury.com.