Portland had barely begun to digest the 42-page Department of Justice report on police misuse of force, before justice itself took another blow. The state's Employment Relations Board, wearing blinders, upheld an arbitrator's decision that the City of Portland can't fire a police officer.
Officer Ron Frashour shot and killed Aaron Campbell, an unarmed man grieving the death of his brother. An investigation showed Frashour shot Campbell in the back as he fled after being shot by a beanbag gun. The fatal shot came less than one minute after he emerged from an apartment with his hands behind his head.
Police Chief Mike Reese fired Frashour after the killing.
"You were not reasonable in concluding that Campbell posed a threat at the level required to use deadly force," he said in the termination letter.
It wasn't the first incident where Frashour had used excessive force. In 2006, he used a taser against Keith Waterhouse, when Waterhouse was filming police activities. That cost the city $55,000 in damages.
No matter. The police contract gives the final say to an arbitrator and a state employment board that have shown themselves to be heavily weighted in favor of fired officers – and against the public interest. Not one single firing has been upheld.
Arbitrator Jane Wilkinson, swayed by testimony from police trainers, decided that the shooting was "within policy." Those are the very same trainers who came under fire in the DOJ report for teaching that Officer Christopher Humphreys' tasing of a 12-year-old girl was a good example of correct taser use. The DOJ called that "callous."
Wilkinson, like the three-person board, ignored the city's argument that reinstating Frashour would violate longstanding public policy against unreasonable use of force. City attorneys say that policy is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution and the city's charter.
Something is terribly wrong with a system that makes it impossible for the city to fire an employee. No arbitrator should be able to overrule the decision of the police chief and our elected officials. From our city leaders to the cops on the street, all are accountable to the citizens they are supposed to serve.
This might be the city that works; but city jobs are not an entitlement. Police officers are hired to serve the public. If they can't do that, they should find another job.
We've been told that Portland's police chief can't fire an officer who has lost all trust of the community he swore to protect and serve.
In fact, the city has been ordered to reinstate Frashour with back pay and benefits, and put him back on the streets. To do what?
No other agency is giving the responsibility of taking a human life in a split second. We're not talking about some traffic stop or fender bender. We can't play politics with the lives of Portland citizens.
We call on the Department of Justice to ensure that its final settlement with the City -- due Oct. 12 –includes language that will make a repeat of the Frashour fiasco impossible.
Thankfully, Mayor Adams says he wants the City Council to take the case to a higher authority: the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Adams says he promised in April to push this case to the limit. "What we're investing in here is to have more local control of our very own police bureau," he said yesterday. "It is totally worth it, and Portlanders want us to do this.''
Mr. Mayor, you are absolutely right. This is a test of who runs the police bureau. Is it the police chief and the city commissioners? Or is it the police union and its friends on the Board of Employment Relations.
Mayor Adams, we are behind you. And we encourage the city council and the citizens of Portland to support you to the hilt. Without public trust and confidence; without overall accountability to the police chief, the mayor and our elected officials, the Portland Police Bureau might as well be an occupying army.
Related content: Read this letter to the editor in response to the editorial