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Friday, April 8, 2011

Depositions in Campbell Shooting: Frashour "Only Witness" Who Saw Campbell Reaching for Gun

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 7:20 PM

It's a timeline of events we've read and heard before, in grand jury transcripts and then in letters released last year when Chief Mike Reese and Mayor Sam Adams disciplined four police officers responsible for the death of Aaron Campbell.

But new court documents submitted today in a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by Campbell's family offer yet another glimpse of what happened that night, summarizing the depositions given to date by officers and others who saw what happened outside Campbell's apartment January 29, 2010.

To recap briefly: Campbell, distraught and unarmed, was shot in the back by Officer Ron Frashour at the end of a long standoff that would have ended peacefully if only officers had done their jobs properly. The two sergeants on the scene, Liani Reyna and John Birkinbine, were suspended for two weeks over severe communication lapses. Officer Ryan Lewton also was given two weeks' suspension for his role in escalating the standoff, firing a bean bag shotgun at Campbell because he didn't like where Campbell had put his hands.

Frashour was dismissed, however, for shooting Campbell with his AR-15 rifle after Campbell reacted to the bean bags. He claimed he thought Campbell was reaching for a gun—a claim that persuaded a sharply critical grand jury not to seek criminal charges and a state agency to clear Frashour to continue working as a cop in Oregon.

I'll include the relevant text below the jump, but here's the most intriguing quote:

What is now clear from the deposition testimony of the police officers and civilian eyewitnesses on the scene is that the only witness who claims Campbell, after continuing to be shot by Lewton as he ran away (a total of six times) was diving his hands down into the back of his pants to pull a gun out is Frashour.... A jury could easily conclude that Frashour is lying in his March 7, 2011 deposition about Campbell’s attempt to get to his gun (which was actually on a shelf in the closet of the apartment) in a lame attempt to justify his “shocking” shooting of an unarmed man in the back.

The documents are part of a back-and-forth legal fight over whether Campbell's mother, Marva Davis, should be added as a plaintiff in the case—amid accusations, first reported by the Oregonian, that police officers harassed her family after Campbell's shooting, including telling her that her son had committed suicide and then stalking other relatives. The city has argued police were investigating a confidential informant's claim, which never led to a proper case, that Campbell's brother had put a $5,000 bounty on Frashour's head.

A judge has yet to rule on allowing the complaint—or whether to compel the city to identify which officers came to Davis' door.

There now is a sworn record in which many facts no longer seem to be in dispute. At 4:22 p.m., at call by a relative of Angie Campbell, Aaron Campbell’s wife and mother of two of his children, was made to 911 seeking a welfare check on Ms. Campbell at the apartment where she lived with the two children. It was reported that Aaron Campbell was suicidal over the death of his brother and that he might be armed. Campbell had committed no crime. Campbell had not threatened the police or anyone else. Campbell had not taken anyone hostage. At about 5:03, Angie Campbell walked out of the apartment and told police Aaron Campbell was “calm” that day. At about 5:34 p.m., when asked by the police over the phone, he sent his two minor children and another minor child out of the apartment to the police.

At about 5:56, Campbell who was then alone in his apartment texted the police (in response to a text question from the police) that he would “never” hurt himself. At about 6:06, Campbell was alone in his apartment when asked by a police officer by phone to come out if he wanted the police to go away and that he would not be hurt. At about 6:07, Campbell walked out of his apartment and into the parking lot, with his hands behind his head, with fingers interlaced, walking backwards. Campbell walked backwards towards the sound of Lewton’s voice as directed by Lewton to do. Campbell stopped twice as also directed by Lewton to do. It was at that point, and also largely undisputed, that Lewton told Campbell he would be shot if he did not follow Lewton’s directions. At that point, there is differing testimony as to what happened.

According to several witnesses, after Lewton told Campbell that he would shoot him if he didn’t follow directions, Campbell said something like “then just shoot me.” Then, according to Lewton’s deposition testimony, over the course of the next 12 seconds or so he told Campbell twice to raise his hands over his head, which he didn’t do; and, in response Lewton began shooting Campbell with his less lethal shotgun in the area of the buttocks. Lewton admits, according to his version of events, that he shot Campbell with his less lethal shotgun after the 12 seconds or so had elapsed, during which Campbell was simply standing with his back to Lewton about 15-20 feet away, with his hands on the back of his head, not moving and saying nothing. Before shooting Campbell, Lewton admits he had not seen a gun on Campbell (Campbell was in fact unarmed) nor had Campbell made any type of a furtive gesture like he was trying to reach for a gun.

Some civilian eyewitnesses say something different happened. For example, on March 17, 2010, I deposed Tyler Camp. Camp says that immediately after Campbell said “then just shoot me” to Lewton, Lewton started shooting Campbell in the back, again while he was simply standing there, doing nothing.

It is also undisputed that Campbell, after being shot the first or second time by Lewton with the less lethal shotgun, stumbled and then started running towards the apartment where he had come from. What is now clear from the deposition testimony of the police officers and civilian eyewitnesses on the scene is that the only witness who claims Campbell, after continuing to be shot by Lewton as he ran away (a total of six times) was diving his hands down into the back of his pants to pull a gun out is Frashour. A jury could easily conclude that Frashour is lying in his March 7, 2011 deposition about Campbell’s attempt to get to his gun (which was actually on a shelf in the closet of the apartment) in a lame attempt to justify his “shocking” shooting of an unarmed man in the back.

From discovery in this case, it is undisputed that Sergeants (Defendants) Reyna and Birkinbine, had ample time to deliberate over their supervisory actions. They were in charge in deploying officers to use force, if necessary. It was their command responsibility to create and implement effective plans to ensure Campbell was not hurt and to decide whether to get Campbell out of the apartment and place him in harms way or to simply leave him alone in the apartment and leave the scene.

Oh, one other interesting thing: Mayor Sam Adams has been called in for depositions, as this exchange between the city's attorney, David Landrum, and a Campbell family attorney, Tom Steenson, shows.

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