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Grand Jury's Letter May Increase Pressure To Release Transcripts

It's been a busy Thursday on the Aaron Campbell case. It's the case in which Portland Police Officer, Ronald Frashour, shot and killed Campbell last month.

Police had been called to deal with someone who was  armed and possibly suicidal. But it turned out Campbell — though distraught over the death of his brother — was unarmed.

There was a large protest in downtown Portland this morning and then early this afternoon the grand jury that decided to take no legal action against Frashour, released an explanatory letter.

Kristian Foden-Vencil was at the protest and has seen the letter. Thanks for being here.

Kristian Foden-Vencil: Hi

Beth Hyams:  I know it’s highly unusual for jurors to write such a letter.  Why did this jury write to the district attorney this time?

Kristian Foden-Vencil: I'm not sure if it's unprecedented, but in my 19 years of reporting in Oregon, I don't remember anything similar.

The answer is, nobody knows why they wrote it. The letter is simply signed: Grand Jury 1 session 1 2010.
But in similar cases, where an unarmed individual is shot by a police officer, there  have been calls for grand jury testimony to be made public — so the public can find out what happened.

There was even a bill introduced in Salem to do just that in 2007, it didn't pass.

But the point is, lots of people know this is an issue and perhaps one or two of them were on the jury.

There's also the possibility that a jury may feel one way, but be directed by the law in another way — and it seems that that may have been the case in this issue.

Beth Hyams: What were the main things they were upset about?

Kristian Foden-Vencil: Well, they found that the actions of the shooter, Officer Ronald Frashour, were consistent with the letter of the law. And that he was credible and honest — in other words: that he genuinely believed Campbell was armed and dangerous and that he was running for cover so that he could fire on police.

But the rest of the three page letter was highly negative.

Jurors said that they were outraged by what happened and that Campbell's death resulted from flawed police policies, incomplete training and poor communication.

Beth Hyams: Well, give us an example? How was poor communication to blame?

Kristian Foden-Vencil: Well basically they say, officer Frashour learned everything he knew about the case when he first arrived at the scene and was setting up his sniper rifle.  So he didn't know for example, that during negotiations Campbell specifically said he wasn't going to hurt anyone.

He also didn't know a dog had been released to bring Campbell down just as he was shooting.

They say Frashour was basically so focused on keeping his sights on Campbell that he didn't digest what officers were saying.

Jurors also say there weren't sufficient people on site to deal with a person in the midst of a personal tragedy — Campbell's brother had died earlier in the day from heart failure.

They also said they heard from 30 witnesses — but not the sergeant in charge of the scene.

Beth Hyams:  Will this letter mean that anything different happens with this police-shooting case than with others of its kind?

Kristian Foden-Vencil: Not really — because the grand jury has done basically what every other grand jury in this kind of case has done — that is to decide not to press any charges. But what is different, is that their letter adds momentum to the idea that grand jury testimony in these cases ought to be made public.

Beth Hyams: There’s a good deal of community concern about this case.  You went to a protest today.  What were people at the rally asking for?

Kristian Foden-Vencil: Well, the protest was lead by a conglomeration of churches — the Albina Ministerial Alliance. But they did a good job of including local mosques and temples as well as politicians other community leaders.

They called for four things: a public inquiry into the shooting; a review of the police bureau's use of deadly force policies; subpoena power for the police's Independent Review Division; and finally for the state legislature to change the language that police can use to justify their actions.

Currently, if they say they were concerned for their life, then the grand jury has no option but to let them go.

Here's Reverend LeRoy Haynes of the Albina Ministerial Alliance.

LeRoy Haynes: " The string of deaths by police violence, Kendra James, James Perez, Jose Meji Poot, James Chasse and others, should send a clear message, that something is wrong within the police police bureau."

Beth Hyams: What’s next?

Kristian Foden-Vencil:  Well first we're waiting to see if a Multnomah County judge will release the grand jury testimony.

Second, the Albina Ministerial Alliance says local efforts with Portland and the state haven't worked, so they're contacting the federal Justice Department for help.

They also mentioned trying to get the Reverend Al Sharpton involved. If they're successful, that could coincide with a promised street protest.

There'll also be an internal police investigation into the shooting and Chief Rosie Sizer has said that she'll release the detective reports next week.