Portland officer in 12-year-old girl’s beanbag shooting files for stress disability

From The Oregonian, November 20, 2009

Portland police Officer Christopher Humphreys filed a stress-related disability claim as the Portland Police Bureau began an internal investigation into his Saturday night beanbag shotgun shooting of a 12-year-old girl on a Northeast Portland MAX platform.

The move is consistent with a long-standing pattern of Portland police officers taking stress disability while facing investigation or potential discipline, but police and others say reforms to the disability system should prevent abuse.

Whether Humphreys’ actions could impede an internal inquiry is unclear; Portland police are proceeding with the investigation, contacting witnesses and others, said Detective Mary Wheat, a Portland Police Bureau spokeswoman.

“The goal is to have it done as quickly and thoroughly as is possible,” Wheat said.

Portland police union president Sgt. Scott Westerman said Friday that Humphreys was “hung out to dry for three years” while the bureau investigated his role in the death of James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old man with schizophrenia. Chasse was knocked to the ground after he ran from officers who suspected he was urinating in a street. He died in police custody from blunt force trauma to the chest Sept. 17, 2006.

This month, City Council member and police commissioner Dan Saltzman proposed that Humphreys, a 10-year veteran assigned to the transit police, 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.

“Now that takes a toll on anyone,” Westerman said.

Humphreys was devastated this week, Westerman said, when the commissioner ordered him off the street and had his badge and gun removed while police investigate the 12-year-old’s shooting.

Westerman, though, would not comment on Humphreys’ recent disability claim to the Fire & Police Disability & Retirement Fund. Instead, he spoke generally, saying the voter-approved reforms adopted in 2006 removed the board from hearing claims, leaving it up to independent hearing officers.

The reforms, passed in November 2006, did change the makeup of the fund’s board, previously dominated by police and fire employees. It also removed the board from voting on claims, instead passing that authority to the fund’s staff or hearings officers.

Every stress claim approved for police since the reforms has been valid, Westerman said, and has been taken so officers can preserve “their own mental health, and to see and receive the assistance that they need,” Westerman said.

Meanwhile on Friday, the police union prepared to mail ballots today to its 922 members to hold a vote of no confidence in Chief Rosie Sizer and Saltzman. Ballots will be collected Nov. 27 and the results announced Nov. 30. The union also plans a rally Tuesday in support of Humphreys. “I believe our faith in the leadership of the Portland Police Bureau is gone,” Westerman said.

He said that Humphreys acted as he was trained and did everything to minimize injury to the 12-year-old girl.

According to the bureau, Humphreys shot the girl once in the thigh as fellow Transit Officer Aaron Dauchy struggled to take her into custody on a MAX platform at Northeast 148th Avenue. Police said the girl had swung at Dauchy’s head when he tried to arrest her for violating a TriMet exclusion.

Dauchy took her to the ground. Humphreys, who arrived with a beanbag shotgun over his right shoulder, pinned it to his side and tried to reach out with his left hand to help grab the girl’s hands, but he could not, Westerman said. Then Humphreys stepped back and circled the girl, waiting for a chance to fire. One shot struck the girl in the thigh, leaving a bruise.

“If the officers were able to grab control of her hands, none of this would have happened,” Westerman said. The chief and commissioner asked internal affairs to determine whether the force was justified and whether the beanbag firing at such close range fell within training.

Bureau directives say nothing about distance restrictions, but the force trains officers to shoot a suspect in the torso at no less than 10 feet with no restrictions on a person’s extremities, police say.

During the past several years, reports from the Police Assessment Resource Center, outside experts, have recommended that the bureau adopt a more specific policy on beanbag shotguns, noting that model policies recommend shots be aimed at the abdomen, thighs or forearms and not at the head, neck or groin, with optimal shooting distance between 21 and 50 feet. They note that rounds present a risk of death or serious injury at less than 10 feet when fired at the chest, head, neck or groin.

Westerman said he was disturbed that Sizer did not release the police report, which he says shows that the girl’s mother apologized to Dauchy.

“Her (the girl’s) actions is what led to the use of force against her,” he said. “This perception this was a 12-year-old girl going to the zoo with her family is wrong.”

Saltzman did not return calls Friday afternoon about Humphreys’ disability claim. Wheat said the chief would not discuss any claim. She also had no response to the union’s position.

“She understands the high emotions that are running and doesn’t want to add to that by making statements,” Wheat said.