Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman has overruled Police Chief Rosie Sizer and ordered the suspension of Portland Police Officer Christopher Humphreys, after he shot a 12-year-old girl in the leg with a “less-lethal” beanbag round on Saturday night.
The action has outraged the Portland Police Association, whose president, Scott Westerman, stood in front of 37 fellow cops outside the Justice Center on SW 2nd, to protest against Saltzman for “trying to be the police chief.”
“When the Police Association first heard about this, the idea was to remove Officer Humphreys from the street, but Saltzman overrode that,” Westerman told the media this afternoon. “With no police experience, he overrode a 25-year bureau veteran and ordered the suspension of Officer Humphreys.”
Saltzman has declined comment on the move, personally, instead, leaving Police Chief Rosie Sizer to read from a written statement on the 15th floor of the police bureau this afternoon. Sizer also released video of the incident to reporters.
Sizer issued the following statement:
“After reviewing the video, I am troubled by it. Officer Humphreys has been placed on administrative leave and I have directed the Internal Affairs Division to conduct an immediate and full investigation into whether the use of force was justified under the totality of circumstances and whether the application of the beanbag at close range was consistent with the bureau’s training.”
Saltzman issued the following statement:
“The actions I witnessed on the video are not consistent with my expectations and what I believe are the community’s expectations for a Portland Police Officer. I directed that Officer Humphreys be immediately removed from the street and placed on administrative leave.”
Humphreys, along with Sergeant Kyle Nice and Officer Bret Burton, was one of the officers involved in the 2006 death in police custody of James Chasse, a man with schizophrenia. A lawsuit is ongoing in that case, and Chasse’s attorney, Tom Steenson, was present at the press conference as an observer this afternoon. He declined comment, but his law firm also announced its intention to sue Humphreys again earlier this year, following his alleged assault of a mentally ill woman at a Gresham MAX stop.
Sizer told the press that on Saturday night, November 14, Officer Aaron Duchy and Officer Humphreys responded to a call to assist with a large party that had just broken up involving several known gang members. Information provided to officers stated that a gun had just been recovered in bushes near the party and that 75-100 male and female teens were walking in the area of 162nd and Northeast Halsey.
The chief continued:
“Several teens went to a nearby bus stop and were angrily shouting about wanting to fight. Portland Police and Gresham Police Officers began to follow the groups to ensure they disbanded without violence. Officers Dauchy and Humphreys arrived at the MAX platform on 162nd and observed about 20-30 teens board a westbound MAX. Officer Dauchy recognized a juvenile female whom he knew to be excluded from MAX.”
Police officers on the steps of the justice center later told me that the girl had been excluded for “stealing a purse,” earlier. The chief continued:
“The officers followed the train to 148th, and went on to the MAX platform. They were the only officers on scene at that point, as other officers were responding to fight calls in the area of 162nd. As the train pulled in, Officer Dauchy recognized a juvenile male whom he also knew to be on the TriMet exclusion list. After placing the male in handcuffs, Officer Duchy called to the excluded juvenile female to also get off the train. As he began to take her into custody, she swung at him, striking him in the face and began aggressively resisting. Officer Dauchy told the female to stop resisting and he continued to struggle with her.”
“After giving repeated warnings to stop resisting or he would shoot a beanbag gun, Officer Humphreys deployed the beanbag gun to the female’s thigh at close range. She became compliant and the officers began to take her into custody when she began to resist again. Another officer arrived and the officers were able to handcuff her. Medical personnel were called and advised officers that the girl had a bruise on her thigh and did not need to be medically transported. Both juveniles were taken to the Transit Police Division for further processing and then to JDH.”
Westerman repeatedly stressed that Humphreys had shot a “170 pound person,” during his press conference in response to Sizer’s, outside the Justice Center.
Humphreys had “quickly, effectively ended a violent confrontation,” said Westerman. “This is exactly what the citizens of Portland expect police officers to do.”
Westerman was asked whether he thought Saltzman’s decision to discipline Humphreys was “political.”
“I have absolutely no doubt that the Commissioner and the Chief’s actions are as a result of the conflict at city hall,” said Westerman—City Commissioner Randy Leonard recently called Police Commissioner Saltzman a “parrot for the police chief” after he gave just two weeks off to Officers Humphreys and Nice over the Chasse incident.
“The police union can no longer tell its officers that politics do not play a part in discipline,” Westerman said. “Officer Humphreys’ action was appropriate, justified, warranted, and necessary.”
Are there any rules about shooting 12-year-olds, or shooting people with beanbag guns at close range?
“Not in the torso, but the extremities are fair game,” said Westerman. “There are no restrictions on children when a person is inflicting injury on the officer.”
Police oversight advocates are pleased with the decision.
“The people give great power to the police, the power to use force, and the people also reserve the right to revoke that power use absolutely, without argument, and at any time,” said Jason Renaud, with the Mental Health Association of Portland—an outspoken critic of Saltzman’s response to the Chasse incident, so far. “I’m glad to see the chief is acting quickly.”
“We’ve been worried about this man for three years, and we don’t think he should be a police officer,” Renaud continued, referring to Humphreys.
“Why did it take two officers wrestling with a 12-year-old girl and a third one circling her with his shotgun to take her into custody?” asks Portland Copwatch activist Dan Handleman, who has been concerned about so-called “beanbag guns” for several years.
“These aren’t beanbag guns, these are lead-pellet bag guns,” he says. “They’re filled with the pellets that you would put into a shotgun shell, except they are wrapped in a Nylon sack. Being hit by one is like being hit by a line-drive baseball at 90 miles an hour. It’s not like sitting in a beanbag chair.”
“Humphreys has several high profile use of force incidents that have been controversial,” says Handelman. “This latest incident has only occurred because of the police bureau’s failure to adequately discipline any officer that repeatedly uses excessive force.”
“Given the totality of the circumstances, Officer Humphreys should not be a police officer,” Handelman concludes.
The District Attorney’s office is prosecuting the 12 year-old girl for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and interfering with public transportation.
Meanwhile, it’s unlikely that they will be disciplined for it, but Westerman’s fellow officers may have violated police bureau directives about appearing on media and in their uniform on the Justice Center steps this afternoon. There’s also a question about the political criticism of Saltzman, who is up for re-election next year. From the cops’ rule book:
Saltzman is due to speak to the community this evening at a two-hour community event at Jefferson High School, along with Senator Chip Shields, Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen, and State Representative Lew Frederick.
“It’s not political,” says Police Commissioner Saltzman, in response to the Police Union’s accusations. “It’s based on what I saw on the video tape, and what I understand about policies and training, and procedure. There’ll be an investigation, and then we’ll determine if there’s going to be discipline.”
Saltzman made his comments to the Mercury after addressing a community audience at Jefferson High School this evening, on public safety. Asked by one audience member at the meeting whether he might support drug testing for officers after controversial use of force incidents, Saltzman said he “didn’t know about that.” State Senator Chip Shields said “such decisions are best left to bargaining units,” meaning the city, and the police union, in the upcoming negotiations between the police union and the city—due to begin in 2010.