Christopher Humphreys, a Portland officer who was collecting stress-related disability benefits on and off for more than three years since his involvement in the controversial in-custody death of James P. Chasse Jr., was found fit for duty this month as he runs for sheriff in Wheeler County.
He was medically laid off from the Portland Police Bureau Nov. 23, 2010, because of the length of time he was off work collecting disability payments – a move the city is taking more often to ensure officers or firefighters on long-term disability don’t remain on city staffing rolls forever.
Yet, as allowed, he continued to receive disability checks, recently collecting monthly checks of $1,546.86.
But as of April 7, Humphreys — who recently announced his run for sheriff — “no longer meets the eligibility criteria” for disability benefits after a medical report confirmed he’s “now able to perform the required duties of his job,” according to Portland’s public safety fund.
Humphreys said Tuesday he used the time off to obtain counseling, and now is feeling good and eager to give back to the Wheeler County community, home to five generations of his family.
“I’m more than capable of being an officer, but I do not want to be an officer in Portland,” Humphreys said.
Linda Jefferson, director of Portland’s Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund, said the public safety fund had the medical re-evaluation done as part of its “routine claim-management activities.” It also came as word spread of Humphreys’ plan to run for sheriff.
Humphreys said he scheduled the medical evaluation, an annual requirement, before the fund notified him to do so.
The fund cut off Humphreys’ disability benefits on April 7, which means he can no longer accrue time toward his pension since he’s no longer an active member of the Portland police bureau or a disabled member. He’ll be eligible to collect his pension Nov. 30, 2024.
According to the city’s public safety fund, Humphreys was off duty from the Portland Police Bureau and collecting disability benefits between Jan. 27, 2006, and Jan. 3, 2007, and again from Nov. 27, 2009, through April 6, 2012.
The benefits were connected to a stress-related claim.
“Every time, I used that to protect myself and do what needed to be done, to seek counseling,” he said. “No one is ever going to say I abused it.”
Humphreys gained notoriety for his involvement in the city’s record $1.6 million settlement stemming from a federal wrongful death lawsuit brought by Chasse’s family. He faced public scrutiny and internal police review for two separate on-the-job incidents: Chasse in 2006 and another in 2009.
Humphreys spent a year off duty on disability, starting about four months after the death of Chasse, a 42-year-old man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, in his custody Sept. 17, 2006. Chasse was knocked to the ground after he ran from officers who suspected he was urinating in a street. He died from blunt force trauma to the chest.
In November 2009, then-police commissioner Dan Saltzman and former chief Rosie Sizer proposed Humphreys be suspended for two weeks for failing to insist that Chasse be taken by ambulance to a hospital after police stunned him with a Taser and after the jail refused to book him because of his physical condition. Saltzman also found that Humphreys failed to provide paramedics at the scene with a full account of the violent struggle.
Humphreys later filed another stress-related disability claim when the bureau began an internal investigation into his Nov. 14, 2009 shooting of a 12-year-old girl with a beanbag shotgun on a Northeast Portland MAX platform.
Former police union president Scott Westerman told The Oregonian then that Humphreys was devastated when the commissioner on Nov. 19, 2009, ordered he be removed from the street, with his gun and badge taken pending the investigation. The move led to a police union protest, with members wearing , “I am Chris Humphreys” shirts in his support. In September 2010, Chief Mike Reese found Humphreys acted within policy.
Humphreys, 37, had worked as a Wheeler County sheriff’s deputy for three years before joining Portland police in February 1999. He was the first to file paperwork on Feb. 10 for the position of Wheeler County sheriff. Wheeler County Deputy Sheriff Mike Garibay will run against him as a write-in candidate.
Of the Wheeler sheriff’s office, Humphreys said, “They really need good leadership. Somebody like me.” He described himself as a highly qualified candidate, with experience in a small sheriff’s office and a large police agency where he worked patrol, in the transit division and emergency management unit. He also has a master’s in criminal justice from Boston University.
“I have a concern and abiding love for that county,” he said.
Should he lose the election, Humphreys would have until November 2015 to decide to return to work at the Portland Police Bureau– the five-year period allowed for return-to-work after a medical layoff.