Portland officer suspended after shooting girl, 12, with beanbag gun

From The Oregonian, November 19, 2009

Portland Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman overruled the police chief for the second time in recent months, ordering Officer Chris Humphreys be placed on paid leave as police investigate his firing of a beanbag shotgun at a 12-year-old girl.

The encounter was caught on TriMet videotape at 10:47 p.m. Saturday, showing Humphreys circling the girl after his fellow Transit Officer Aaron Dauchy had taken the girl to the ground and continued to struggle with her on the MAX platform at Northeast 148th Avenue. The girl had struck Dauchy in the face when he tried to take her into custody on a TriMet exclusion violation. Humphreys, police say, repeatedly warned the girl to stop resisting or he’d shoot his beanbag gun, and fired one shot, striking her in the thigh at close range.

“After reviewing the video, I am troubled by it,” Chief Rosie Sizer said Thursday, reading from a prepared statement.

She has asked the police internal affairs division to determine if the use of force was justified, and if the firing of the beanbag shotgun at close range was consistent with bureau training.

The chief on Wednesday wanted to remove Humphreys from the street and put him on a desk job, but Saltzman directed he be placed on paid leave instead.

Saltzman, who was waiting for a community public safety meeting to begin at Jefferson High School Thursday evening, said he was worried by what he saw in the video. “As a layperson, it did not strike me as being a necessary use of force,” he said. “I did not want him on the street.”

Moments after Sizer’s news conference wrapped up inside the Justice Center, police union President Sgt. Scott Westerman stood outside vigorously defending Humphreys, backed by more than 40 officers who stood shoulder to shoulder on the center’s front steps.

Westerman decried the actions taken by the police administrators, calling them politically motivated and further fallout from the pending federal lawsuit involving Humphreys, who is accused of using excessive force against James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old schizophrenic man who died in police custody in September 2006. Humphreys faces a proposed two-week unpaid suspension in that case.

Police said the shooting occurred shortly after transit police were called to assist other officers who were dealing with a rowdy crowd of 75 to 100 teenagers leaving a party near Northeast 162nd Avenue and Halsey, including several known gang members. Officers were told a gun had been recovered in bushes near the party.

Dauchy and Humphreys had gone to the MAX platform on 162nd and saw 20 to 30 teens board the westbound train. Dauchy recognized the 12-year-old girl, knew she had been excluded by TriMet, and, with Humphreys, followed the train to Northeast 148th Avenue. Police said Dauchy called to the girl to get off the train and when he began to take her into custody, she swung at him.

Westerman said the girl, who had previously been excluded from TriMet in Clackamas County for having stolen a purse, was “violently and aggressively” fighting with Dauchy, and Humphreys stepped in to use less-lethal force, as trained, to protect his fellow officer.

“This action was appropriate. It was justified. It was warranted,” Westerman said, trying to speak over the rush-hour traffic. “This is exactly what the citizens of Portland expect their police officers to do.”

Police written directives do not say anything about the distance an officer must stand from a subject before shooting a beanbag shotgun, but officers say they’re trained to be at least 10 feet away when shooting at the torso.

“Ten feet to the torso, the extremities are fair game,” Westerman said.

Westerman said he doesn’t have any confidence in the chief or police commissioner, and the union’s executive board would be meeting tonight to determine if a vote of no-confidence is warranted. “Had they not already had a predetermined bias against Officer Humphreys, we would not be here today,” Westerman said.

But other people said they were glad to see the bureau take decisive action and initiate an investigation.

“We’ve been worried about this man for three years now, and this confirms our concerns,” said Jason Renaud, a volunteer with the Mental Health Association of Portland. “We believe Humphreys should not be a Portland police officer.”

Dan Handelman, of Portland Copwatch, said he watched the video and doesn’t think it helps the police. “She’s 12 years old — what is she, the incredible hulk? She’s unarmed. It doesn’t make any sense.”

He also said he’s disturbed by the multiple allegations of excessive force brought against Humphreys in recent lawsuits, and that the bureau hasn’t acted to deal with him until now. “Hopefully, this is the straw that will break the camel’s back,” he said.

In 2002, the bureau transitioned from the square beanbag ammunition in its 122 less-lethal guns, to sock-type bags filled with seven ounces of birdshot, to help eliminate skin injuries and allow greater accuracy. Only certain officers are trained to carry them. Police must warn the suspects before shooting the beanbag shotgun, and not just simply shout “less lethal” or “beanbag.”

Emergency paramedics at the scene said the girl had a bruise and didn’t need to be taken to the hospital. Instead, she was taken to the Donald E. Long Home juvenile detention, accused of assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and interfering with public transportation. She is not in custody and wasn’t named. Police said they’ve been in contact with her mother.