RON FRASHOUR—the Portland police officer who shot and killed Aaron Campbell last winter—was fired in November because, as Chief Mike Reese wrote in a letter announcing the dismissal, his "conduct, while employed with the Portland Police Bureau, has not met standards acceptable to the bureau."
Reese ripped Frashour for his "rigid and inflexible approach" to the tense, chaotic standoff outside Campbell's apartment on January 29, 2010 ["Fire Frashour? Done." News, Nov 18, 2010,]. And Reese highlighted two other use-of-force incidents that drew rebukes. In one, Frashour targeted the wrong car during a police pursuit, causing a crash that cost the city $44,000 in damages. In the other, a case that cost the city $209,000, Frashour Tasered a man without warning.
Taken together, the list marks a clear attempt by Reese to establish a pattern of troubling judgment—and fend off Frashour's bid, expected later this year, to have an arbitrator restore his job. But in a twist that could boost Frashour's case, the State of Oregon Employment Department has declined to blame Frashour's dismissal on "misconduct," the Mercury has learned—clearing the way for the fired officer to take home nearly $500 a week in unemployment benefits.
In short, the finding means an independent adjudicator decided Campbell's shooting wasn't "a willful or wantonly negligent violation," but rather an "isolated" instance of "poor judgment."
"It's significant," says one observer who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of Frashour's case. "Because it's an independent body determining that he didn't commit misconduct."
Sean Murray, the police bureau's human resources manager, confirmed the city sent the state Frashour's discipline letter late last year, hoping to block Frashour's unemployment claim. Regular unemployment claims are paid out from a tax collected from employers, which, in this case, would be the city.
But Murray also said that even though the city could have contested the ruling to grant Frashour weekly checks, it did not do so. That would have sent the claim to an administrative judge, for a confidential hearing between the two sides. If the city lost yet again, it could then have appealed to the Employment Appeals Board. "We chose not to appeal," Murray says.
While the employment department ruling offers a hint at how an arbitrator might approach Frashour's case, some observers also note that the legal standards used in the two decisions differ. While the employment department was asked to judge whether Frashour's actions should disqualify him from receiving benefits, an arbitrator will be asked to decide whether the city's contract with the police union permits his dismissal in the first place.
The arbitration hearing is expected as soon as this summer. The city attorney's office says an arbitrator has been selected and that the city has hired an outside litigator to represent its interests in the case. A civil suit seeking damages from the city and the officers involved in Campbell's shooting, filed last fall, also could move forward this year.
Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association—who has repeatedly insisted Frashour was justified in shooting Campbell—played down the significance of the unemployment ruling.
"There's no precedent... for what an arbitrator will decide," he told the Mercury.
But there is some history to remember. If Frashour's dismissal is upheld, it would be a first for Portland.