- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A day after saying there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal civil rights charges against Portland , Ore., police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a black man, the Justice Department on Wednesday said it had begun an investigation to determine whether Portland police used excessive force in carrying out their duties.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said the department, in accordance with the pattern or practice provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, will seek to determine whether Portland officers have systemically violated the Constitution or federal law and whether the Portland Police Bureau had made efforts to ensure compliance with federal law.

“Make no mistake, our investigation will be independent, it will be fair, and it will be thorough, but it also will be collaborative,” Mr. Perez said. “We must learn and listen from all affected stakeholders. We’re not here to fix the blame, we’re here to fix the problem.”

Mr. Perez said the inquiry was prompted by what he called a significant increase in police shootings over the past 18 months, the majority of which involved people with mental illness. He said the full review is to reduce crime, to ensure respect for the Constitution and to ensure public confidence in law enforcement.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams said the city had asked for the investigation and welcomed it.

“This is a difficult situation. We are humble in the knowledge that we don’t have it all figured out,” he said.

Aaron Campbell, 25, was killed by police in northeast Portland in January 2010, shot in the back with an AR15 rifle by Officer Ron Frashour, who told investigators he thought Mr. Campbell was suicidal and was reaching for a gun.

Portland police later confirmed that Mr. Campbell, who reportedly was distraught over the death earlier that day of his brother, had left his gun in an apartment when police convinced him to come out.

The officer later was fired for violating police policy during the incident and three other officers, Ryan Lewton, Sgt. Liani Reyna and Sgt. John Birkinbine, each received 80-hour unpaid suspensions.

But the Justice Department, following an investigation, said there is not enough evidence to pursue federal civil rights charges against the Portland officers. A team of federal prosecutors said the available evidence did not establish that Officer Frashour or any other officers acted “with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids.”

Under federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived a person of a constitutional right, meaning with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids, a Justice Department spokeswoman said.

A Multnomah County grand jury in Portland also decided there was no evidence to pursue local charges against Officer Frashour.

On Tuesday, the department said officials from the Civil Rights Division, the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon and the FBI met with the Campbell family and their representatives to inform them of the decision.

“The family accepts this decision,” Mr. Campbell’s family members said in a statement. “To have them prosecuted would have served little purpose in the healing process for the family.”

Family members have filed a civil lawsuit against the officers and the police bureau.

Portland Police Chief Michael Reese, in a statement, said: “We can’t undo the death of Aaron Campbell, but I believe we have taken significant steps to learn from it. In this case, I believe each bureau member involved was attempting to do their best to resolve a complex situation. However, there were significant issues that were brought forth in the bureau’s internal reviews and those involved were held accountable.”

Since the death, the police bureau has instituted extra training for officers who carry assault rifles like the one Officer Frashour used.

• Jerry Seper can be reached at jseper@washingtontimes.com.

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