On January 20, Maxine Bernstein of the Oregonian/Oregon Live, the major newspaper in Portland, Oregon, covered the hearing of the International Commission of Inquiry focusing on the case of Aaron Campbell, killed by police in the city on January 29, 2010. Campbell’s mother, Marva Davis, and the family’s lawyer, Tom Steenson, provided testimony to the Commission, heard by Commissioners Mr. Max Boqwana of South Africa and Judge Peter Herbert of the UK and Kenya, at a hearing coordinated by rapporteur Marjorie Cohn.
This story was also picked up by the Associated Press: https://hosted.ap.org/theskanner/article/6a389884006e1634e6fa8f887d1a3447/portland-police-shooting-man-under-international-scrutiny
The AP wire story was then picked up by a wide array of outlets, including U.S. News and World Report, the San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times and a wide range of national and local outlets.
We encourage you to share these links with your social media contacts and invite you to join us for future hearings, continuing until Feb. 6.
Portland police shooting of Aaron Campbell in 2010 under scrutiny by international commission
The Oregonian/OregonLive — The Jan. 29, 2010, police killing of Aaron M. Campbell, an unarmed Black man shot in the back after officers arrived to check on his welfare, drew intense scrutiny in Portland, a grand jury rebuke, a march on City Hall and public condemnation from the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
On Wednesday, Campbell’s death garnered international attention.
Campbell’s mother, Marva Davis, and the family’s lawyer, Tom Steenson, had an hour to address an international commission delving into police violence against Blacks in the United States.
It was one of 30 hearings scheduled this week through Feb. 6 by the commission. It’s the only Oregon shooting by police under review. Among the other cases being examined are the deaths of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and Breonna Taylor.
The International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States is made up of human rights advocates from across the world. It will make recommendations to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights by April after evaluating the cases.
The group particularly wants to discuss how to hold police accountable, “recognizing that killings and maimings of unarmed Black people by police authorities in the United States escalate unabated and that effective domestic remedies are either non-existent or exacerbated by the policies of the federal government,” it said in a statement.
Davis, appearing by video feed from her Portland home, told the commission it was painful to relive the death of her 25-yearold son.
“My grandchildren are growing up without a father,” she said. “Every time someone is killed by the police, it takes us back to the day that Aaron was shot in the back.”
She urged the commission to do more than just talk about the police killings of Black men and women but make sure officers are held responsible for taking another’s life in violation of their own policies. The officer who fatally shot her son, Ron Frashour, was fired. But then a state arbitrator ordered his return to work with back pay, Steenson recounted to the panel.
On the day he died, Campbell was distraught and suicidal about the death of his younger brother, a heart transplant recipient who had succumbed to heart and kidney disease.
Campbell emerged from a Northeast Portland apartment with his back toward officers and his hands behind his head. Officer Ryan Lewton, trying to get Campbell to put his hands in the air, fired six beanbag rounds at him. Campbell ran toward a parked car and Frashour, armed with an AR-15 rifle, shot Campbell once in the back, killing him. Campbell wasn’t armed, but Frashour said he thought Campbell was reaching for a gun.
Then-Police Chief Mike Reese called Lewton’s use of a beanbag shotgun unjustified because Campbell’s actions didn’t rise to “aggressive physical resistance” and said Frashour’s deadly shot was unjustified because Campbell didn’t pose an immediate threat.
An arbitrator upheld Lewton’s suspension without pay for 80 hours for violating police policy, but another arbitrator overturned Frashour’s firing. Steenson said Frashour’s reinstatement was the outcome of a “flawed arbitration system which interferes with the ability of the city of Portland and its officials to get rid of bad police officers, particularly those involved in costly deaths and intentional shooting deaths.”
Outside prosecutors should handle fatal shootings by police and deaths in police custody — not the same prosecutors who rely on police to pursue other criminal cases, Steenson told the panel. He also pointed out that no Portland police officer involved in a fatal shooting has been indicted on criminal charges.
“Prosecutors don’t pursue cases against police with the same zeal they do against other citizens,” Steenson said.
He also blamed a largely ineffective police disciplinary system that “provides little or no accountability” for deadly shootings by police.
The current citizen system to oversee police in Portland has no authority to review police shootings, Steenson said. And though Portland voters in November overwhelmingly approved a measure calling for an independent citizen board with such powers, “it remains to be seen whether that board will ever be implemented,” he said. Steenson described a city effort underway to create a pilot project for a crisis mental health worker to respond with an emergency medic to mental health calls, instead of police. No one with mental health experience responded when Campbell’s aunt called police to perform a welfare check on her nephew, he said.
“There weren’t any professionals there with those kinds of skills and experiences to interact with Aaron,” Steenson said. “Instead, it was a police encounter with guns, and that’s the wrong approach.”
Davis said she’s tired of talking about her son’s death. She said she wants action.
“I hope that we are not just here just to share and to relive this painful experience,” she told the panel.
“What is the intention for this? I know that we are not here just to reflect on pain, the painful loss of our children’s lives,” she said. “Let’s make a difference in our lives and the families with children who are at risk.”