Portland Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman on Tuesday said that he reversed course on how to deal with an officer who fired a beanbag shotgun at a 12-year-old girl because he wanted to “de-escalate the tensions” building between him, the police chief and the union.
Saltzman, speaking for the first time beyond his prepared statements on his decision involving Officer Christopher Humphreys, said he didn’t fully appreciate “how big an issue it is to the union” when an officer is put on paid leave, having their gun and badge removed as he had first ordered, versus being put on desk duty.
He said his main objective was to take Humphreys, a 10-year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau, off the street as an internal inquiry began into the Nov. 14 shooting. Agreeing to place Humphreys back on desk duty Monday, instead of paid leave, still accomplishes that, he said.
“I felt my main objective was still satisfied,” Saltzman said Tuesday.
“I didn’t fully understand the difference,” Saltzman said, noting that he’s been police commissioner for almost a year and is not fully versed on all the bureau’s directives. “I’m a civilian…. Subsequently, I came to appreciate how big an issue it is to the union.”
His about-face followed the intervention of two civilians who brokered talks between the chief and commissioner and union leaders. Saltzman met Saturday afternoon with police union president Sgt. Scott Westerman at the Golden Touch Restaurant in Southwest Portland. Chief Rosie Sizer cut short a Thanksgiving break to meet with Westerman and the union’s secretary-treasurer Dave Dobler at her Portland home on Friday.
Computer entrepreneurs — Jim Linkous, a former neighbor to deceased Portland Officer Mike Zylawy who has since lent his services to the bureau in web design and police recruitment campaigns, and Thompson Morrison — acted as mediators, bringing city officials and union leadership together after the union march on City Hall and the mailing of union ballots for a no-confidence vote.
Westerman impressed on the commissioner that the union felt that Saltzman had already judged Humphreys. “The taking of his gun and badge signaled an act of impropriety on his part, that hadn’t been investigated yet,” Westerman said.
The Nov. 14 incident was caught on TriMet video. Transit Officer Aaron Dauchy had taken the girl to the ground on a MAX platform at Northeast 148th Avenue after she swung at him. Dauchy was trying to arrest her on a MAX exclusion violation. As she continued to struggle with Dauchy, Humphreys is seen circling the two, and shoots the girl with the beanbag shotgun once in the thigh at close range.
Saltzman said when he first saw the video, he was disturbed by it. “At the time I was pretty upset. I wanted him on leave,” he said.
Sizer initially recommended Humphreys be assigned to desk duty in the bureau’s telephone reporting unit, but Saltzman overruled her and put him on paid leave.
Saltzman’s initial directive prompted hundreds of officers to march on City Hall, blasting his decision and proclaiming their support of Humphreys. Many argued Saltzman violated Humphrey’s due process, and acted only because of Humphreys’ role in the James P. Chasse Jr. case.
A federal lawsuit accuses Humphreys of excessive force in the September 2006 arrest of Chasse. The 42-year-old man who suffered from schizophrenia later died in police custody of blunt force trauma to the chest. Early in November, Saltzman recommended Humphreys be suspended without pay for two weeks for failing to fully inform paramedics of the violent struggle with Chasse, and for not insisting he be taken by ambulance to the hospital.
Tuesday, Saltzman dismissed critics who have said the commissioner overreacted to the beanbag shotgun shooting, because he was feeling heat for not taking swifter action against Humphreys in the Chasse case. He also swept aside critics who say his latest move shows he’s kowtowing to the union.
“I don’t buy that,” he said. “They don’t run me. They don’t run the chief.”
Saltzman called the union march “an impressive turnout” and said he was glad officers didn’t make it a personal attack on the chief.
Sizer said everyone agreed it was important to take Humphreys off the street while the beanbag shooting was under investigation. She called the fine points between an administrative leave and an administrative job “a distinction without a difference.”
Yet the chief said she recognizes that officers consider the removal of the badge and gun more punitive.
Sizer said she thought the agreement reached Monday made sense. “I thought this was a good agreement to move forward past the conflict, and have the processes just play out,” she said.
Sizer credited the businessmen for bringing the two sides together. “I think it was a healthy thing to continue the conversation,” she said, declining to comment on the no-confidence vote.
At 8 a.m. Monday, union leaders and their attorney met in the chief’s office with Sizer and Saltzman, and hammered out the agreement. With Humphreys allowed to return to desk duty, the union agreed not to release the results of its no-confidence vote.
“At this point, we just need to move forward,” Sizer said.