by William McCall
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)—Aaron Campbell had been drinking at his apartment and was upset about the death of his brother after a long illness when he found himself exchanging a text message with a Portland police officer.
“Aaron, we need to know if you intend on hurting yourself,” the message read.
|CITIZENS AND CLERGY PROTEST—Members and supporters of the Albina Ministerial Alliance gather on the steps of the Justice Center in Portland, Ore., Feb. 11.
The 25-year-old Campbell responded: “Never.” Then he added, with a sense of humor: “wow, u guys text too. u get kudos.”
Minutes later, he was dead, shot in the back by a police officer with a rifle after Campbell had come out of his apartment with his hands on the back of his head. The officer said he thought Campbell had a gun. He did not.
Campbell’s Jan. 29 death has enraged Portland’s tiny Black community, who make up less than 7 percent of the population. It has also drawn attention to the sometimes tense relations between them and police.
On Feb. 16, the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave his support to community members who say Campbell’s death could easily have been avoided. Jackson called the killing an “execution,” and pointed out there have been previous recent shootings by police officers of unarmed Black people.
“What happened to Aaron is not a matter of Black and White, it’s a matter of wrong and right,” Jackson said at a news conference.
Jackson told reporters that Campbell’s treatment was “beneath the dignity of man, beneath the dignity of this community.”
“There was no threat to the man who pulled the trigger,” he said.
Black leaders have been staging protests against the shooting, demanding changes in the way the police bureau responds to such incidents.
On Feb. 17, they organized a march to City Hall where they delivered a letter to Mayor Sam Adams demanding police reform.
The mayor later issued his own statement: “Let me make this abundantly clear: Aaron Campbell did not need to die that January night.”
Documents released by police this week suggest a breakdown in communication led to Campbell’s shooting.
Officers were sent to Campbell’s apartment after relatives called 911 to say he was upset over his brother’s death from heart disease, that he had a gun, and wanted police to kill him.
At the scene, Officer James Quackenbush tried to reach Campbell by cell phone but couldn’t get a voice connection, so he tried texting him and was able to reach him that way.
Campbell told Quackenbush he had no intention of killing himself.
“Thanks Aaron, I appreciate your help. I’m truly sorry about your Brother, can u promise me u won’t hurt yourself-Jim,” Quackenbush wrote.
By that time Campbell’s girlfriend and her three young children were out of the apartment and were no longer in harm’s way.
Documents released by the police show that the commander at the scene—Sgt. Liani Reyna—believed the crisis at that point was over.
She is quoted as saying “I’m ready to walk away from this; we don’t need to be here.”
But then something went awry.
Campbell emerged from the apartment with his hands on his head. Officers told him to put his hands in the air instead, and when he didn’t comply they pelted him with nonlethal beanbag rounds. As Campbell began to run away, he reached toward his waistband, and an officer shot him with an AR-15 rifle.
The body lay in the parking lot for more than half an hour before a special weapons team called to the scene determined Campbell was dead.
Adding to outrage over the shooting is the fact that as police were trying to get Campbell to raise his hands above his head they sent a police dog after him. The police report released this week showed the dog had bitten Campbell on the leg as he lay on the ground.
A Multnomah County grand jury ruled the use of deadly force against Campbell fell within guidelines because the officer who shot him believed he was going for a gun. But the grand jury took the unusual step of writing a letter to District Attorney Michael Schrunk sharply criticizing police for the way they handled the incident.
“We feel that his death resulted from flawed police policies, incomplete or inappropriate training, incomplete communication and other issues with the police effort,” the letter said.
Their letter added, “As a group, we are outraged.”
Police are reviewing procedures used during the Jan. 29 tragedy.
Detective Mary Wheat, police spokeswoman, said Wednesday that Chief Rosie Sizer had no plans to comment about the review until it is complete.
Wheat also said the police bureau works hard to “maintain relations with all kinds of minority groups in Portland.” She added: “Obviously this kind of incident puts stress on those relationships.”
“We’ll try to work through this and keep their trust,” she said.
Still, Black leaders are not satisfied.
Their anger was voiced Wednesday in the Oregon Legislature by state Rep. Lew Frederick.
“Every time another member of our community dies and the use of force is characterized as consistent with procedures and training, our confidence in the system sinks even lower,” Frederick said from the floor of the Oregon House.