Perez Announces Civil Rights Probe of Portland, Ore., Police Bureau
By Channing Turner | June 8, 2022 3:46 pm

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez announced Wednesday that the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will launch a broad investigation into whether the use of force by police officers in Portland, Ore.,  constitutes a “pattern or practice” of federal civil rights violations.

The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation section will work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland to complete the review, which comes amid a string of controversial officer-involved fatal shootings and deaths.

Among others, two high-profile cases have drawn attention to the Portland Police Bureau: the death of James P. Chasse Jr. while in police custody in 2006 and the much-publicized fatal shooting of Aaron M. Campbell on Jan. 29, 2010.

“This investigation will examine whether there is a pattern or practice of excessive force used by PPB officers, particularly against people living with mental illness,” Perez wrote in a letter to Portland Mayor Sam Adams dated June 8 and published by the Oregonian. ”At the conclusion of our investigation, we will discuss our findings with you in detail, and, if necessary, work collaboratively with you to develop an appropriate course of action.”

The Civil Rights Division’s investigation follows an announcement on Tuesday that the Justice Department will not pursue criminal civil rights charges against Portland Police Bureau officers involved in Campbell’s fatal shooting, citing lack of evidence.

Officers shot 25-year-old Campbell after he emerged from a Portland apartment that reports said contained a suicidal, armed man.

Campbell was unarmed, but a grand jury in Multnomah County concluded that the officer who shot Campbell had reasonably believed he was reaching for a gun in the waistband of his pants.

After its decision, the jury released a letter stating that, rather than an individual officer, “the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) should be held responsible for this tragedy” and blamed a lack of communication, inadequate command and poor training for Campbell’s death.

The shooting promoted outcries and public protests – even bringing the Rev. Jesse Jackson to the city in February 2010. The Justice Department began its preliminary inquiry around that same time, according to reports by the Oregonian.

“Police officers carry tremendous authority – and tremendous responsibility,” said Dwight C. Holton, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, in a statement. “And making sure that officers carry out their duties consistent with the Constitution and federal civil rights laws is a core responsibility for my office, and for the Civil Rights Division.”

The Oregonian also published a letter sent by Holton and Criminal Section Chief Mark J. Kappelhoff to Campbell’s mother expressing their condolences and explaining that evidence gathered by the Civil Rights Division was “insufficient to meet the high burden of proof required for federal criminal civil rights prosecution.”

The Oregonian reported that City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who was police commissioner at the time of Campbell’s shooting, invited federal officials to broaden their investigation beyond Campbell’s death to review the entire bureau shortly after they had began their initial review.

“U.S. Attorney Holton and I have put together a top notch team of lawyers and staff for this investigation,” Perez said in a statement. “We are retaining experts in policing and mental health and will be reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders, including people within the PPB, people elsewhere within Portland’s administration, key stakeholders in the criminal justice system, and the community at large.”

The Justice Department recently completed probes of the Austin, Tex., and New Orleans police departments and has opened investigations of the Newark, N.J. , and Seattle departments.

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