Mayor Sam Adams and Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman were joined this morning by leaders from Portland's African American Community in calling for a US Department of Justice investigation related to the police shooting death of Aaron Campbell.
Saltzman also showed a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder signed by US Senator Ron Wyden and Congressman Earl Blumenauer—urging Holder to prioritize the investigation.
Saltzman said that Officer Ryan Lewton and Officer Ronald Frashour would remain on duty. He said he couldn't comment on new revelations in the Grand Jury transcripts, released yesterday, suggesting that Officer Lewton may have precipitated Campbell's death by firing a beanbag round—in apparent contravention of the bureau's policies on using such force on subjects offering only passive resistance.
"I can't offer an assessment on that," he said. "But we are doing a complete investigation."
Saltzman also said he was "troubled" by the fact that Sergeant Reyna—the incident commander—was not called before the Grand Jury. "When I read the Grand Jury's letter I said that it may not have been a criminal indictment," said Saltzman. "But it was an indictment of the on scene command. So that troubled me."
Saltzman added that he felt confident that the DOJ's enquiry will not turn up any civil rights violation. "But I do think it is necessary," he said. "As part of an effort to begin to heal our community." More after the jump.
There were inconsistencies in the Grand Jury transcript, said Joyce Harris, co-president of the African-American Alliance.
Harris welcomed the DOJ investigation, but called on Eric Holder to farm the investigation out to his civil rights division.
"Local investigations have never rendered a decision that has held anyone accountable for the death of black people in this community," she said. "They'll have a broader picture, and have no relationships whatever with local law enforcement."
Harris said she was also "disturbed by some of the comments by some of the officers who seemed to feel the situation was under control." "Why was he not wearing his earpiece?" she asked, about Officer Ronald Frashour, who fired the fatal shot. "Why would you take a lethal action without having all the facts?"
"We're very proud of this moment," said Reverend T.Allen Bethel from the Albina Ministerial Alliance. "There's no one perfect in this community, there's no one perfect in the Portland Police Bureau, there's no one perfect in the organizations that are calling for justice, but we do want to hold accountable anyone who is wrong." "We're not going back, we're going forward," he said.
"We have come together like I haven't seen in my short time in Portland, Oregon," said Marcus Mundy, president of the Urban League of Portland. "The community is galvanized behind this."
"We are happy to see that Mayor Adams is involved in this because a mayor has a direct and unequivocal responsibility to be up-front [on issues like this]," said Lolenzo Poe, co-president of the African-American Alliance.
"We have had a team of five lawyers read the Grand Jury transcripts," said Mayor Adams. "Both Commissioner Saltzman and I have received briefings with their impressions."
Adams also reiterated that the city's Portland Plan is working to address economic disparities across race lines. He said this work was "long overdue." "And I appreciate the tone of the African American leadership here that we can have the conversation without the blame game," he said.
Adams also said he planned to review the issue of whether officers involved in deaths in custody should go back to the street. "Other communities" send them back to desk jobs, he said, and has asked Saltzman to come back with recommendations. Officer Ron Frashour is now working in "kind of a desk job," said Saltzman.
A tough question for Commissioner Saltzman and the mayor from Jim Redden at the Portland Tribune: "Do you agree with these people that Portland Police have repeatedly violated the civil rights of Portlanders?" he asked.
"I can't say I agree," responded Saltzman. "I guess I'd say I don't know."
Saltzman also said that he was troubled by the fact that minority applicants to the Portland Police Bureau were now refusing the city's offers to come and work as police officers in the wake of the incident. "We need to continue to reach out and to heal," he said. "We want a police force that looks more like the city."
Not everyone was impressed with today's presser. Jesse Cornett, who is running against Saltzman in the May Primary, says the investigation was already launched earlier this week
"Commissioner Saltzman presupposing the conclusion, suggesting no civil rights violations will be found highlight why external review is needed," he adds. "As Commissioner, I would not call for an investigation if I were so certain of the solution."
Cornett adds that as "someone who has been personally impacted by a shooting death at the hands of a Portland Police Officer," (Cornett was a good friend of Raymond Gwerder, who died in eerily similar circumstances in 2005) "I remain dismayed at how the PPB has continued to lurch from crisis to crisis."
Cornett is also calling for Adams to remove Saltzman as Police Commissioner "for over a year and gross mismanagement of the current situation." Adams is "already the de facto Police Commissioner," he says.
Cornett was also "appalled" to see Emerald Bogue, Saltzman's campaign manager, taking photos at the press conference, he says. We've emailed Bogue to give her the right to reply.
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