Officer in Chasse case faced 2005 complaint

Friday, October 27, 2006
Officer in Chasse case faced 2005 complaint
from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein and Steve Suo

Earlier this year, Portland paid a man more than $30,000 to settle a 2005 excessive force complaint filed in federal court against four officers, including Christopher Humphreys, who was involved in the James P. Chasse Jr. case.

Humphreys and three other Portland officers, Lonn Sweeney, Erik Strohmeyer and Brent Christensen, mistook a man for a suspect in a Southeast Portland domestic assault case on April 21, 2003, and used physical force to arrest him.

The lawsuit accused the four officers of pulling an 18-year-old man from his car, piling on him and beating him for an extended period with multiple punches, kicks, baton strikes, and use of pepper spray and Taser shots.

The suit alleged that Humphreys struck the man about 30 times with his baton, hitting him across the shins and midsection, and that the officers then “maliciously lied” in their police reports to justify taking the teenager into custody when they realized he wasn’t the man they were after.

The city, in court papers, responded that officers used a “reasonable amount of force” to defend themselves against what they “reasonably believed” to be the plaintiff’s unlawful actions and force against them. The city did acknowledge that the man arrested, Chaz W. Miller, was not the suspect sought.

The four officers still took him into custody, accusing him of resisting arrest, attempting to elude a police officer, reckless driving and recklessly endangering another person.

In December 2003, a 12-member jury in Multnomah County Circuit Court acquitted Miller of all five charges. In a recording of the five-day trial, the officers said the victim of the domestic assault gave police the suspect’s name, Paul Swayze, described him as drunk and gave a description of his vehicle. The officers said Miller’s blue-and-white pickup fit that description and was parked outside Swayze’s home.

But the woman who made the complaint testified that she told police that Swayze left her house on foot, and may have been given a ride home by a mutual friend named Chaz Miller, who drove a blue-and-white pickup. She described Swayze as having brown hair and blue eyes.

Miller, who has blond hair, was asleep in his pickup, parked outside Swayze’s home when police approached around 4 a.m. According to the police reports, the officers said they rapped on his window and asked whether he was “Paul.” But Miller said he awoke to police busting out the driver’s side window, and pepper-spraying him. Miller said he drove off, thinking someone was breaking into his truck.

Officers chased after and cut the truck off. In the trial, Humphreys testified that he tried pulling Miller from the pickup by the legs and struck his legs 10 to 12 times with his baton. Once Miller fell out of the pickup and was pulled to the ground by another officer, Humphreys testified he struck him 10 to 12 times again with the baton, hitting him in the right shoulder, back and midsection because Miller kept struggling with officers.

Suspect said to cry out

Witness Mark Parkison testified at the trial that he saw Miller fall out the passenger side of his truck and run toward Parkison’s driveway. He said several police surrounded Miller, punching him in the ribs, jabbing him with a baton in his shoulder blade and kicking him. He said he heard the police calling him “Paul!” and Miller crying out in pain.

At one point, Parkison said he picked up a chair and tossed it against a wall, and angrily called out, “His name is Chaz!”

“You don’t see that stuff everyday, and when you do see it coming out of the people who are supposed to be there for us it’s horrifying,” Parkison testified.

John H. Repp, who lived across the street, said he heard the baton strikes and looked outside. “I could hear the whacks of the sticks hitting him,” Repp testified. “I figured his ribs were going to be busted up. I figured they were going to kill him.”

Miller, who wept as he testified, said he was using his hands to block the punches to his ribs. “I didn’t understand why they were beating me . . , and I wanted it to stop.”

Taken to hospital

Once arrested, Miller was placed in a hobble restraint, his ankles tied to his wrists. The jail didn’t accept him, and he was taken to Portland Adventist Hospital. He suffered bruises, but no permanent injuries, his civil lawyer said. Miller’s public defender in the criminal case, Dawn Andrews, criticized the police for jumping to conclusions without accurate information.

In February, the city settled the federal civil rights case, paying $32,683 to the plaintiff, and in April, $59,485 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

J. Scott Moede, a deputy city attorney who handled the federal case, declined to comment on the settlement.

After Portland police identified Humphreys as one of the officers involved in Chasse’s death last month, an attorney who represented Miller posted a note on a local blog reporting Humphreys was involved in this prior excessive force complaint. Travis Eiva, said he did so because the allegations in the Miller case –“officers standing over a man and beating him” –were similar to the Chasse case.

“Prior to the Chasse incident, City Council was on notice that there were serious allegations of excessive force against Officer Humphreys,” Eiva wrote on a Jack Bog’s Blog. “The city already has taken a bullet for Officer Humphreys in the past, i.e., negotiated a deal that protected him from personal culpability for violent actions.”

“Take-down” control

According to Portland Police Bureau data on officers’ use of force, compiled from Aug. 1, 2004, through Oct. 4, Humphreys was tied for second among officers in the number of cases in which force was used.

Humphreys filed 78 use of force reports during that period, the same number as Detective Dirk Anderson, who is assigned to track down fugitives for the U.S. Marshals Office.

The only officer who reported more incidents was Central Precinct Officer Brian Hubbard, with 117 cases.

Humphreys described 55 of these cases, or 71 percent, as “high-risk incidents,” compared with 43 percent of use of force cases bureauwide. In 22 percent of his cases, Humphreys reported a suspect was injured.

Also in 71 percent of Humphreys reports, he said “take-down” was one of the control measures used on a suspect. That compares with 21 percent of use of force cases bureauwide. Police said “take-down” includes not only tackles but also other means of forcing a suspect to the ground.

But police caution that the data don’t take into account officers’ specific assignments.

Humphreys, who was hired by the Police Bureau in February 1999 and worked as a deputy sheriff in Wheeler County for about three years before, has been assigned to Transit police for more than a year. Recently, he’s been on TriMet uniform patrol and is the main custody officer for undercover missions.

“He would be the uniform cover that would actually make the arrest, so he has a lot of hands-on contact with people,” said his boss, Transit police Cmdr. Donna Henderson. “His activity level looks a little different because of that.”

Further, Henderson said her unit of 28 officers that patrols the MAX train and bus lines make 18 percent to 20 percent of the drug arrests in the Portland area. She said she’s never had a complaint against Humphreys and reviewed his internal affairs file, and found it “pretty minimal.”

A Multnomah County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing by Humphreys or other officers involved in Chasse’s death on Sept. 17. Chasse died from broad-based blunt-force trauma to his chest after police knocked him to the ground and struggled to take him into custody. Humphreys is expected to return to work today.

City Auditor Gary Blackmer and Leslie Stevens, director of the Independent Police Review Division, plan to hire an independent consultant to analyze the bureau’s use of force data. Officers fill out forms every time they use any physical control, a weapon or point a gun at someone.

“The Chasse case sort of gave us the impetus to squeeze some money out of the auditor’s office to make it happen,” Stevens said, estimating the consultant will cost less than $20,000. “Our goal is to look at any patterns that we see and develop any remedial plans, make recommendations regarding revised directives or training.”