DID PORTLAND POLICE commanders and Mayor Sam Adams' office conspire to fire the cop who shot Aaron Campbell in the back nearly three years ago? And then did they cook up an important training review and lie under oath in front of an arbitrator to make the political fix stick?
Not quite, according to a new city report on the case released Monday, October 1—offering up findings that, on their face, appear to puncture a conspiracy theory flogged hard by the Portland Police Association (PPA) after Adams stood firm this spring and refused a labor arbitrator's order to put Officer Ron Frashour back in uniform.
And the timing of the report, by the city's independently elected auditor, is serendipitous. It dropped just days before an expected city council vote this Thursday, October 4, that will take Adams' fight over Frashour's fate to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Adams—increasingly the target of nasty jabs by PPA President Daryl Turner—had asked his colleagues to back him after the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) last month also ordered him to reinstate Frashour.
"Based on the auditor's findings, I respectfully ask the Portland Police Association to cease their attacks on the character and integrity of members of the Portland Police Bureau, and to start focusing on the facts of this case," Adams said in a statement.
The mayor has some reason to crow. City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade found no evidence that any cop lied during the investigation or in front of an arbitrator—which would be a cardinal violation of the bureau's truthfulness policy. She also found "no documentary evidence" that Chief Mike Reese's office or the mayor's office unduly influenced the review of Frashour's training, or that Adams traded Reese his promotion in May 2010 for a promise to fire Frashour.
Turner, the PPA boss, had made all three accusations in a public screed posted to the union's newsletter in June, quoting in detail from confidential arbitration transcripts that later were published by media outlets. It was his complaints that led Adams to call for the auditor's investigation.
"ONE ORCHESTRATED STORY"
Moreover, a new—and inflammatory—allegation was tucked inside some 100 additional pages of testimony affixed to the auditor's report. One of Reese's top aides, Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea, told investigators it was the police union, not the chief's office, who tried to influence cops in the case.
O'Dea said "shifty" statements from "brother" cops—cops who told the arbitrator they didn't think Frashour did anything wrong, he alleges, after saying the opposite during a review board hearing—left him "feeling pretty uncomfortable."
Reese fired Frashour because he shot at Campbell, who was running from officers after being hit with a beanbag gun, without considering whether Campbell was unarmed. Some bureau trainers later defied Reese, testifying Frashour was doing what he was taught to do.
"Knowing that [PPA President] Daryl Turner has talked to at least one of them directly... what kind of pressure is he creating... is that creating on this," O'Dea told investigators. "I'll tell you it just felt like I was hearing one orchestrated story in there and not individual opinions."
Turner did not return a message seeking comment on O'Dea's insinuation. But he did issue a statement answering Adams' admonition.
"The fact is, the PPA has always focused on the facts of Officer Frashour's use of deadly force," reads the statement. "In contrast, the city—and Mayor Adams—have focused on politics, which deprived the community of facts that would allow them to understand why Officer Frashour justifiably used deadly force."
Meanwhile, PPA officials made their feelings about the investigation very clear when sitting down for testimony.
Union lawyer Anil Karia, representing Paul Meyer, the bureau's lead instructor on less-lethal weapons and sniper rifles, accused the city of punishing cops who contradicted the chief during Frashour's arbitration hearing. "This particular investigation is retaliatory," he said.
LACK OF CLARITY
But it wasn't all great news for Adams and Reese.
Griffin-Valade knocked the bureau for waiting years to craft clear policies on how training reviews are shaped—arguing that lack of clarity did more than anything to give Turner an opening for his complaints.
That's important, because training reviews—a measure of how and whether a cop followed bureau lessons on things like de-escalation and use of force—have increasingly influenced discipline decisions in recent years. That's partly because the reviews themselves have become more stringent, actively questioning a cop's decision-making, for instance.
Reese says he's drafting new procedures for the reviews, but it's not clear whether they'll provide that clarity. He testified that while it would be wrong for a bureau commander to order wholesale rewrites in a training review, it would still be okay for a commander to weigh in on whether a review is thorough or logical. That's a fairly big loophole.
Reese also was ambivalent about another recommendation, aimed at minimizing the appearance of collusion. Amid talk of a cookout at which cops in the Campbell case discussed the shooting, and other social outings, the report suggested the bureau extend a blackout on individual cops' private discussions until after any internal investigations are finished.
"We're in a Catch-22 a little bit," Reese testified. "Because the officers have a right and need to be together and talk about these incidents if they're going to heal, and I think these traumatic incidents are life-changing for the officers."
The report also touches on the fundamental awkwardness of having training instructors—who serve alongside the same officers they're reviewing—weigh in on misconduct cases. Attorney Tom Steenson, who helped Campbell's family extract $1.2 million in damages from the city, has repeatedly harped on that disconnect.
Reese acknowledged the system is "set up to be very difficult" to fire cops, but he stumbled over himself on whether "there's room for improvement" or if the system is "very, very good."
"So I don't—I don't know what the ultimate answer is," Reese testified.
FRASHOUR'S IMMINENT RETURN
Whatever happens, the report might wind up another footnote in this saga if Adams' court challenge falls short—a possibility even the city commissioners supporting him acknowledge—and Frashour returns to work.
That may happen even while the courts are hearing Adams' appeal, the Mercury has learned. The city has 30 days from the date of ERB's order, September 21, to reinstate Frashour, and the board gets to decide whether Portland can put that off.
In a 2008 ruling on a similar request from Josephine County, ERB split the difference—letting the county delay rehiring workers, but forcing it to fork over back pay in the meantime.
City Attorney Jim Van Dyke acknowledged an early reinstatement is "legally possible"—a controversial outcome in the face of so much community outrage and political wrangling—but he wouldn't speculate on the odds.
"We're still reviewing that."
Attention, wonks! For a more detailed analysis of the auditor's report, click here.