THE PORTLAND POLICE Bureau has spent the last week trying to convince Portlanders it was justified in shooting an unarmed and surrendering African American man, Aaron Campbell, in the back on January 29.
In the wake of last Tuesday's high-profile visit by the Reverend Jesse Jackson ["High Noon," News, Feb 18], the bureau's attempts to win over local media and by extension, public opinion, have been more pedestrian. A half dozen local reporters accepted the invitation to the bureau's firearms training center in Clackamas on Friday, February 19, to run through practice role plays that included shooting blanks at officers.
In one exercise, Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter April Baer aimed a Glock handgun at Officer Tracy Chamberlin, who was playing the role of a civilian holding a gun at his side.
"What's your name? Who do you work for? What kind of car did you drive here?" asked Chamberlin, in rapid succession. As Baer paused to answer, Chamberlin swiftly raised his weapon and shot Baer.
Chamberlin regularly runs officers-in-training through a PowerPoint presentation on the effects of stress, and told reporters that police work is an adrenaline rollercoaster.
"Every year in the United States, about 30 to 40 police officers die in the line of duty," said Chamberlin. "But what you don't hear about police officers is that between 200 to 450 officers commit suicide."
"I wouldn't argue that police have an easy job," says Dan Handelman, an activist with Portland Copwatch. "But we would argue that this shooting was improper."
Indeed, since last week the Mercury has uncovered two troubling new details related to the incident that appear to cast the police bureau's attempts to justify what happened in a more desperate light.
First: 454 pages of grand jury transcripts released last Thursday, February 18, show that the incident which precipitated Campbell's shooting—the decision by Officer Ryan Lewton to fire a beanbag round at Campbell's back—was apparently without justification under bureau policy, since Campbell was only offering passive resistance at the time ["Campbell Shooting: Grand Jury Transcript Raises Fresh Concerns," Blogtown, Feb 19].
Campbell emerged from his apartment walking backward with his hands interlaced behind his head.
"He kept his hands where they were, kept them on his head," said Officer David Kemple, a grand jury witness. "And he just—he wasn't doing... and he wasn't doing anything."
"He just stands there," Officer Lewton told the grand jury. "And that's when I fired my first beanbag—first beanbag round at him."
A grand juror pressed Lewton on this point. Earlier, Lewton had alluded to Campbell's possible mental health issues. So the grand juror asked: "So with all the instructions being given and shooting—and telling him to put his hands straight up in the air, was that concerning that he wasn't getting it if you felt that he was under some mental issues?"
"I—I guess, um... I didn't... it didn't... I can't think..." Lewton responded. "I... the thought crossed my mind that we needed to take action."
Second: The Mercury discovered on Monday, February 22, that the supervising sergeant on the scene, Liani Reyna, has a longstanding discrimination beef with the bureau's Special Emergency Response Team (SERT). Reyna, the first commanding officer arriving on the scene, failed to promptly call SERT even though the situation involved a suicidal suspect, a possible gun, and four hostages.
In 1999, Reyna became the first female police officer to join the SERT team, but resigned from it in 2000 and then sued the bureau, alleging sex discrimination, a sexually hostile workplace, and retaliation. Reyna lost a nine-day federal trial related to the discrimination suit in 2005, and lost a subsequent appeal in the ninth circuit in 2008. The City of Portland even tried to garner $16,000 in wages from Reyna's paychecks in 2006 to recover its damages in the suit ["Campbell Shooting's Missing Sergeant," Blogtown, Feb 22].
If Reyna didn't call the SERT team out because of lingering bitterness over an unsuccessful discrimination claim, then the lack of diversity in the Portland Police Bureau is an even more significant angle in the Campbell shooting story than it has been, so far.
Citing racial disparities within the bureau, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman has spoken repeatedly over recent days about trying to recruit a police bureau that "reflects the city as a whole." Meanwhile Reverend Jackson said last week that domestic violence calls should be answered by "one man and one woman" police officer. Police Chief Rosie Sizer has herself been quoted in the Mercury as saying that the bureau "deals well with gender."
Nevertheless the Oregonian's editorial board dubbed Reyna's lawsuit a "moral victory" in 2005, describing the SERT team as "a smut-saturated brotherhood with rituals so degrading and sophomoric that they seemed dreamed up by sadistic frat boys, not fellow officers."
Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman declined comment on this story until an internal affairs investigation is complete.
"There is no evidence that indicates Sgt Reyna did not call SERT because of any negative history with them," wrote police spokeswoman Mary Wheat in an email. "Reyna has utilized SERT in the past and has a very professional relationship with them."Watch reporter Sarah Mirk's video of the police media training here on Blogtown.