Interview with Chris Humphreys… The race for Sheriff

The Sheriff Candidate Forum hosted by Wheeler County News has been set for July 14, 2012, and will be in Fossil. The location and time will be announced as finalized.

(The following preface is duplicated for each of the online interview articles with Mike Garibay and Chris Humphreys)

By Editor Joan Field ~ From WCN issue Vol 13, No 11

June 6, 2012 – Wheeler County will elect a new sheriff this year in the November General Election since current Sheriff Robert Hudspeth is not seeking reelection.

Two Fossil residents seek to take on the job: Chris Humphreys filed earlier this year and his name will appear on the ballot, and current Wheeler County Senior Deputy Mike Garibay is conducting a write-in campaign.

In order to qualify to run for sheriff, a candidate must have a minimum number of years completed (of full-time officer employment) before the filing deadline; Garibay missed that deadline by a slim margin and therefore was unable to file in time to have his name included on the printed ballots. However he does meet the requirement to be elected and to serve, if he is successful with a write-in campaign.

We have already seen a major change in the county’s leadership. Current Commissioner Chris Perry will be our County Judge beginning in 2013, and the Commissioner positions will see either one or two new faces. But another significant office of leadership for our area is the Sheriff’s Office, and more specifically the Sheriff position itself.

In this issue, you will find interviews of both Humphreys and Garibay. The easygoing flow of conversation with both of them provided far more information than could be included here, so the Q&A sessions have been heavily edited for brevity.

I have limited their articles to these two objectives: (1) to give you a sense of who these candidates are, and (2) to share what their plans and goals are for the Sheriff’s Office if they are elected. These are not meant to be comprehensive and all-inclusive biographies.

The next “WCN Candidate Forum” will be the Sheriff Forum, and will be held in Fossil- but other details for that forum will be announced as they are finalized.


Chris Humphreys is running for Wheeler County Sheriff and will be on our ballot this November in the General Election. ( Chris and his wife Rebecca and their two children live in Fossil, and on May 8th Chris and I met at their home to talk about his run for Sheriff.

Humphreys with his daughter

Humphreys with his daughter

WCN: Chris, thank you for taking time to meet with me and letting me ask you Q’s that I hope will give our residents a better understanding of who you are, and what you would bring to the Wheeler County Sheriff’s Office. First, tell me about your background and ties here in Wheeler County.

Chris: You could say my roots go way back. I’m at least five-generations deep in the settlers of this region; my mother’s roots go all the way back to Dr. McLoughlin and my step-father Dave’s family has owned a ranch here for over 100 years.

In addition to that, I’m two world histories juxtaposed: my mother was a small town girl with historical links back to the pioneer settlers, my father with his link to the immigrants who came to America seeking freedom. My biological father, George Shen, was a Chinese immigrant whose father brought him on a freight ship to the north Portland docks. They had come to the United States to escape communism. I’m a blend of these two histories.

George became a school teacher and accepted a teaching job in Spray (he had no idea where he was heading), and while in Spray he met my mother, Candy. They had two boys, Paul and I, and while I was very young we lived in Washington State. But summers and holidays were all about being in Spray with grandparents and cousins and a multitude of family. As a kid it was a magical place. And I can see in my daughter’s eyes that it still is.

My parents divorced and we moved to Spray when I was nine. My mother then married Dave Humphreys, and that was a pivotal point in my life. He adopted us and when he did, we truly became ‘one family’. There was never any question- we were his family. He became my father in every way; he raised us and during my life has been a tremendous positive influence on my life. And… my hero- even to this day- is my grandpa Odell Adams. From the time I was born, he has made a huge impact on my life.

I went to school and played sports in Spray, and graduated from Spray HS as valedictorian. I met my future wife Rebecca at a statewide science and humanities conference in my junior year. Now all these years later we have a daughter and a son, and as I think about the experience of going to school here and the lifelong friendships I made, it has made me very passionate about our local schools today. I volunteer coach and I’ve taught some local class sessions. At one time, my goal was to become a teacher. The connection and interaction between the Sheriff’s Office and our schools is very important to me, and is definitely included in my plans if I’m elected.

WCN: Tell me how you became involved in law enforcement.

Chris: The day I graduated high school I found out I was awarded a scholarship to Linfield College. My original focus was international business, so I started as a business major and Japanese minor. But I quickly figured out that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Some of the biggest influences on my life have been from teachers – my grandma Humphreys was a teacher; Dennis Starr, I don’t know if he realizes what a big influence he had on my life. So I switched over to an education major pretty quickly; specifically I wanted to be a history teacher. I went all the way through to where I was just beginning my student teaching curriculum, and then I made a huge life changing decision to transfer to Western, mid-year. Rebecca (my wife now, but we were just dating then) was going to Western and I transferred to be closer to her. I’d decided I couldn’t live without her, but my family was a bit concerned about my changing schools.

So my step-dad Dave came down to talk to me, and we talked about the class offerings at Western. Even though I love teaching and I’m comfortable with public speaking, the really good teachers excel at motivating all levels of students. That was an area where I struggled- with reaching and motivating all the different levels of interest in students. I was young and I just wasn’t good at that yet. So I was open to a career change. Western offered classes in Criminal Justice, and I found out Dave had gone into the Army with the goal of become military police. Well, by the time our visit was over- instead of him talking me out of changing schools- by the time we were done we were both ‘pumped’ about my going to Western for Criminal Justice classes. He got in a little bit of trouble with my mom for that.

Later, in my senior year at Western, I was visiting in Spray and met Wheeler County Sheriff Craig Ward. He found out my interests and we had a long talk. At that time, while still in school I was also working part time as a privately retained investigator. Even though my work was pretty basic-delivering subpoenas, things like that- my first taste of criminal justice was in defending people. That laid a great groundwork in me, and from the people I was interacting with and through a number of very high profile cases, I was able to learn so much during that time.

For school I needed to do an unpaid internship, and Sheriff Ward invited me to do that in Spray. I was nearly finished with school, and I thought as an intern I’d be handling paperwork and records. I was pretty surprised when I found out I was going to be fully suited-up and going out on patrol with Sheriff Ward or Deputy Dave Rouse. I also learned the procedural side of things from Reserve Deputy Jim Walker. Walker was an incredible unpaid volunteer- he kept that office running smoothly and that was before it was all computerized. To have someone with his dedication and knowledge volunteer such an important job in the office, was just amazing and is unheard of today.

At the end of my internship, Sheriff Ward let me know his office had been awarded a COPS Grant and he had funding to add another paid position for a period of time, I think it was funded for 2 or 2 ½ years. He asked me to apply and after a great deal of thought, I did. Along with several other applicants I was interviewed (intensely) and subsequently hired; went to Academy and I eventually moved to Mitchell. At that time Rebecca and I were engaged, and she got a job in John Day and then later in Prineville.

I was not just a deputy living there; I volunteered as an athletic coach for the school, and I had kids coming and going all the time at my house. I was very involved with the kids in the community, and I’d like to think I helped a few of them make good choices growing up.

To accept the job in Wheeler County I left college with approximately one term remaining, so eventually Sheriff Ward started asking me when I was going to finish and what my bigger goals were. He was a consummate professional, and was big on people completing tasks and setting and attaining life goals. He pushed me to make some decisions. So to finish my degree, I asked for a leave of absence to go to Western and complete my remaining classes. When I would return to Wheeler County on weekends, Sheriff Ward, Rouse and I continued to have discussions about what my long term goals were. I’d done a little bit of work on the Brooks case, and I was becoming more and more interested in homicide investigation. I considered focusing on becoming a homicide detective, and Ward and others counseled me that I would need to expand my horizons beyond Wheeler County to accomplish this.

There were many small reasons that came to bear in the 1998 decision to leave Wheeler County take a job with the Portland Police Bureau. In my work, I admired people who had gained enough experience and knowledge to be calm and cool during intense situations. And ultimately, I knew if I wanted to be ‘that guy’, I’d have to broaden my horizons. Because I was young, back then I used to think it was the ‘cool customer; amazing operator’. Now I realize it has nothing to do with anything other than a person who has been put in that situation a number of times, honed their tactical ability, and that they understand what leadership qualities really are.

Editor’s note: There has already been exhaustive media coverage surrounding two events (Chasse in 2006 and the 12 year-old girl in 2009) in which Chris’ name was linked. It was not my intent to cover these events in this article—the facts surrounding these two incidents alone would easily consume an entire issue. I encourage you to discuss this with Chris directly, and it will likely be covered in the public forum.

WCN: Chris, your website summarizes your years with the Portland Police Bureau this way:
“I spent the next 11 years with the state’s largest law enforcement agency, the Portland Police Bureau, where I specialized in training officers, drug enforcement missions, crowd control tactics, patrol and investigations, and emergency management. I earned 21 commendations during my time with the bureau and also received a Medal of Valor for saving citizens in a burning building. The experience I gained was invaluable.”

…Is there anything more you would like to add? What else do we need to know?

Chris: When I look back at the commendations, I realize they are just a fraction of the times that we could have gotten them—and I say ‘we’ because it was a team effort even though I was often informally in a leadership role. When you arrest as many people as I have over the years, you are going to get approval in some areas and you are going to get complaints. The people I arrested were generally not happy about it, and every complaint is taken seriously by the Bureau. But to keep it in perspective, you need to look at the number of arrests and the locations I worked in (which were high crime and high drug areas). Those exact numbers can be hard to pin down since more than one officer is involved, or that some cases are written up by detectives, but I’m credited with having written 2792 reports, and 1012 custodies (arrests).

WCN: Did you ever get a complaint and think, “ok, this has some validity.” Was there ever any legitimacy to the complaint?

Chris: Validity? No. Now, I did get a two week suspension by ex-Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman the Chasse Case. It took him almost three and a half years to decide to discipline me. This directly reversed the decision by both Chief Rosie Sizer, and a civilian review board that stated I should face no discipline. It is currently in arbitration with the city and awaiting a decision. But aside from that, I have never had a sustained complaint against me for use of force, for conduct, for anything. And if someone tries to sum up my time with the Portland Police Bureau by looking at one or two cases, that completely discounts the thousands and thousands of interactions I had on the job, every single day for 11 years.

Some people say that police officers just do the job because they like the power. No, sociopaths like power but a normal and adjusted person does it because they #1: discover its something they’re good at, and #2: they like helping people. Once you’ve been in that position of really helping someone in a substantial way, you feel a weight of responsibility; you want to use your abilities to help people.
When you check your ego and humility, you realize you simply love the service, and it means something to you to ‘be there’ for people in those moments of life’s crisis. And then further, you realize that ultimately, you are one of the rare individuals that are actually good in those moments of life’s crisis. I have so much experience with high intensity types of situations, it doesn’t throw me and I’ve learned that I’m good in those moments that might really rattle a less experienced officer.

WCN: Aside from family ties, what made you want to move back to Wheeler County?

Chris: My wife and I had been talking about it for a long time. Part of it was my brother being killed in 2005; part of it was when my daughter was born. Having kids makes you assess things like that. And I’ve always known I wanted to come back one day. My family and friends here gave me the framework when I was growing up to become the person I am today. That means something to me. Also, I see a ton of potential in this Sheriff’s Office and I’d like to see that developed.

WCN: What would you be doing if you weren’t in law enforcement?

Chris: I really enjoy teaching and have always seen myself as a lifelong learner. I would probably be a teacher. Currently what I do now as an analyst and instructor allows me the best of both of those worlds (LE and teaching) in that I get to work with security forces and military personnel across the nation. It forces me to stay current in topical doctrine and affords me the chance to see leadership in many different areas while being utilized as a resource for that leadership.

I also really enjoy the time that I have worked locally as a volunteer coach, mostly because the kids in this County are really a pretty amazing bunch (I am also a board member with the Fossil Education Foundation), so I would probably be involved with education of the youth in some fashion. In fact, as Sheriff, I plan on making our involvement with the local schools a priority, because not only are we going to focus on enforcement, but we will also give equal weight to education, both of the public at large and through targeted programs that might tie in with our schools, the juvenile department, and the community school system.

WCN: For a long time you worked on the streets in an area very ‘high speed’ and very dangerous. What would keep you from bringing that mind-set to Wheeler County where things are so much different here?
Chris: And thank God it’s different here. But to answer your question- level of training, knowledge of the law, and the ability to stay calm and composed because I have seen so much already. There’s not too much that you could throw at me that I haven’t seen already. You gain an ability to stay calm and to make a thoughtful assessment.

One other point: if an officer has lost that ability to stay calm and make a thoughtful assessment, it will show up in their personal lives too. They will generally demonstrate that in the other areas of their public life. You know, I am one of the most highly vetted police officers you will ever find—the media looked into my background so thoroughly; there is nothing they didn’t dig into and try to find something to use.

WCN: You’ve already mentioned you see a strong connection between the schools and the SO. What other thoughts do you have about the position of Sheriff?

Chris: As I said, I see a ton of potential here. With the overall economy and the county budget concerns, I have some knowledge and background in crisis management and budgeting that I can draw from. In my work, I’ve made numerous connections that I’d like to utilize to bring additional resources into Wheeler County.
No other officer in five counties has been through what I’ve been through. I remember what it felt like to have ‘this county’ be all that I knew; there is that sense of, “well, it’s just Wheeler County…” I’ve seen it now on both sides. In many ways the work that gets done here is more important, more imperative, more dangerous, but also more rewarding- than what happens in Portland. I think with the right leadership and with teamwork, there’s so much that could be done.

WCN: If elected, what specific things would you do within the Sheriff’s Office?

Chris: The kick-start I will focus on is true community policing; the idea that the SO is truly part of the community, and building partnerships within the community. We’ve already talked about the connection with the schools, but also a real connection with the kids.

WCN: …the first three things you would do?

Chris: First, an ‘in-house’ review and assessment. I want to hear from the deputies. We need to take a hard look at what’s been working well, and what’s not been working; I want to hear those things; identify them.

Second, kick-off a hard push of increased communication between the SO and the community, county government, other local agencies, and outside agencies. I want to make sure we have a relationship with the fire dept, ambulance personnel; I want them to know how we operate and I want to know how they operate. I’ve conducted dozens of ‘tabletop exercises’; we run a simple scenario and it helps everybody involved.

It’s hard to limit the things I’ll do to just the first three, but… Third, a hard look (and I’ve already taken one) at the finances and the department’s budget.

But also just as important- and this is one area where I need to stress the importance- is ‘civil process’. I personally think this is one area of huge liability in rural areas; we have to get the civil process right. I have plans ready to go (for instance, with concealed carry permits), to make improvements there. We have a neighboring rural department that has gotten their civil process down pat—we can learn from what works there to make improvements here.

It’s hard to limit myself to just three top steps, but those are what I’d lead off with. Then there’s the Reserve Program… that’s a huge asset to the department. I want to develop a training program and a set of minimum standards, and provide our Reserves with proper training. We need to have a set hiring process for Reserves, with in-house training that must be completed. It would include: CPR, possibly First Responder or EMT, firearms qualification, report writing, bring in additional instructors for ‘use of force’ training… there are several areas to cover.

WCN: What are your thoughts on this~ a ‘use of force’ complaint made against a department you are leading, or someone attempting to set you (or one of your officers) up by making a false claim?

Chris: You mitigate that by (a) everyone being properly trained, conducting themselves professionally and following proper procedure, and (b) having a relationship with the community; they know you and the officers, and they know that proper procedures are being followed. The community will be supportive of us if we’re as transparent as possible and we conduct ourselves professionally and correctly. A great many potential problems can be avoided if the Sheriff’s Office just keeps regular and open communication with the residents, works hand in hand with the District Attorney, and there’s a transparency to the department’s policies. I welcome instituting those kinds of changes, and building up the department.

Anybody can sue anyone over anything, but police departments can somewhat protect themselves from that by requiring and providing proper training, by proof of supervision and by acting within the law. Having policies in place, and procedure to follow makes a difference. Most people would be intimidated by the threat of defending their decisions in court, but I’ve been there and done it, and it doesn’t intimidate me. Your officers need to have confidence that they know what the correct actions are, and the training to conduct themselves properly. And I’ve learned some great verbal skills in my years as an officer, and of course I would pass that training on.

WCN: How did the dramatic events of 2006 and 2009 affect you, or change you?

Chris: That is a difficult question to answer in a sound-bite. I don’t ever want to extol a tragedy or a death; I don’t want this to be taken that way at all. …I can say that everything I’ve gone through, not just within my police work but also losing my brother the way I did, and other things I’ve experienced—it has ended up making me a better person. I wasn’t a bad person before, I don’t mean that. But I think I’ve gained insight that maybe people don’t get until they are much older… about what is important in life, and about priorities.

I understand on a deeper level what a burden and what an honor it is, to be entrusted to protect the public. I live here too, so in that sense Wheeler County is ‘my county’. But you’ll never hear me have a tone of entitlement. Being Sheriff doesn’t mean I’m entitled; it means I will take the comments and wishes that you bring to me, filter it through my experience plus what the law says we can and cannot do, and then I will try to provide that service to you in a way the Supreme Court says I can. But at no time would I see it as ‘mine’. I’d be your Sheriff along with your deputies, and we’re serving you in this county.

I wouldn’t wish those previous events I went through on anybody, but at the same time- I survived them and I survived them correctly. I now have a perspective from all sides of the coin; getting national attention, getting praised in the press one day, vilified on another day, had people marching in the streets in support of me, and had myself and my family receiving death threats. And all these things were happening to a small town kid who grew up doing 4-H in Wheeler County!

I hope people understand my dedication to Wheeler County, because by doing this (running for Sheriff) I’m now putting myself back in the spotlight and answering Qs like this.

But I really love this place, and I want to give back to the people here.