Portland Sgt. Kyle Nice acted inappropriately in off-duty traffic encounter, police review board rules

From The Oregonian, February 9, 2011

The Mental Health Association of Portland is interested in Sgt. Nice because he was one of three law officers who beat James Chasse to death in September of 2006. No one was held accountable for Chasse’s death. Our organization asked the Portland City Council for Sgt. Nice’s termination in Spring of 2007, and was joined by a dozen other organizations to asked him for his resignation in 2009.

Portland Sgt. Kyle Nice acted inappropriately, used profane language and shouldn’t have drawn his weapon during an off-duty traffic confrontation in April with another motorist who says Nice flipped him off in traffic and later unholstered his gun.

The Portland Police Bureau’s new Police Review Board sustained all the allegations that motorist Neil Ruffin brought against Nice following an internal affairs investigation.

“The Bureau directive requiring members to conduct themselves in a diplomatic and professional manner extends to their off-duty conduct,” Internal Affairs Lt. Chris Davis wrote to Ruffin in a Feb. 3 letter. “The PRB found that Sergeant Nice had other, more appropriate options to deal with your driving behavior.”

The board and Nice’s supervisor, Central Precinct Cmdr. Vince Jarmer, further found that Nice’s actions escalated the encounter.

“While Commander Jarmer found, based upon independent witnesses that Sergeant Nice did not point a firearm at you, he did find that drawing a weapon exacerbated an already tense situation and did not serve to diffuse the tension,” Davis wrote in his letter.

Police internal affairs considered three separate allegations: that Nice showed inappropriate off-duty behavior; acted unprofessionally by removing, displaying or pointing his firearm at Ruffin; and used profane language and gestures.

The board sustained the first two allegations, and said it rolled in the profane language complaint into the first allegation.

Ruffin has a lawsuit pending against both Nice and the City of Portland. In the suit, he accuses Nice of menacing and threatening him with a loaded firearm. Further, Ruffin’s lawyer, Portland attorney Greg Kafoury, attempts to hold the city responsible for Nice’s off-duty behavior.

“The fact that an independent review found him to be out of line for what he did is helpful,” said attorney Jason Kafoury.

Yet Nice’s commander, citing an independent witness, ruled that Nice did not point his firearm at Ruffin, according to the internal affairs letter. Ruffin is expected to contest that in his pending civil case, and not appeal the commander’s finding to the city’s Citizen Review Committee.

“Rather than rely on the police department’s own investigation, we will put our trust in the jury,” Greg Kafoury said.

Nice, currently assigned desk duty in the training division, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, David Prange, though, argued in court papers that Nice’s actions that day were reasonable and justified.

The April 3 incident occurred about 2:47 p.m. in Washington County. Ruffin called 9-1-1 after he said Nice drove up to his car at a stoplight at Southwest Garden Home and Oleson Road, honked his horn and “flipped him off” while mouthing an expletive at him.

Ruffin followed Nice’s truck. According to the police report, Ruffin wanted to know who was in the truck, whether it was someone he’d seen at the gym or if he knew him from somewhere. He also didn’t understand what he had done.

Nice drove to Southwest 80th Avenue, and Ruffin followed him in his 1996 BMW. At one point, Ruffin said he signaled he was pulling over and Nice did too.

Ruffin said he opened his door, but before he got out saw Nice standing behind his truck with a pistol out. He said Nice had the pistol close to his left side, but the barrel was pointed at him and Nice was yelling at him. He said Nice was saying, “You (expletive) can’t drive you (expletive).”

According to Nice, he said Ruffin had run a red light going east on Southwest Allen Boulevard at Scholls Ferry Road, and almost hit his truck. He said his six-week old child was riding with him. Nice said he caught up with Ruffin at the Southwest Garden Home intersection with Oleson and rolled down his window. Nice told police initially that he raised his thumb and told Ruffin, “Nice, thanks for almost hitting me back there.”

Nice said he pulled over because he did not want Ruffin following him home. He said he got out of his truck and walked toward the BMW, which pulled behind him. He said he couldn’t see what Ruffin was doing or see his hands so he drew his pistol and put it to his side, not aiming at Ruffin at any time.

A trial date in the pending lawsuit has been set for March 21. In his lawsuit, Ruffin is seeking $170,000 in non-economic damages, plus $25,000 in punitive damages “in order to deter defendant and others similarly situated from this and similar kinds of conduct in the future.”

A hearing on whether the city should remain a defendant in the case will be held Feb. 24 in Multnomah County Circuit Court. The city has filed a motion, arguing it should not be a party to the case because the incident occurred while Nice was off duty and not in the course of his police work.

“He was not in uniform. He was not in the City of Portland. He was not on an errand for the City,” argued Richard J. Kuhn, an attorney representing the city in the civil case. “Instead, he was driving his own personal vehicle in unincorporated Washington County, on an errand for himself, with his infant son of six weeks in the vehicle with him…Nice’s motivation leading to his contact with plaintiff was purely personal.”

READ – Report: Chasse Cop “Out of Policy” in Road-Rage Incident, Portland Mercury, April 9, 2010
READ – Washington County Sheriff’s Report on Neil Ruffin Kyle Nice incident from April 3, 2010.
READ – Portland Sgt. Kyle Nice under investigation for pulling gun and allegedly flipping off another motorist in Washington County, Oregonian, April 6, 2010
READ – Motorist involved in road rage incident with Portland Sgt. Kyle Nice sues the city, Oregonian, April 9, 2010
READ – Chasse Sergeant In Off-Duty Road Rage, Portland Mercury, April 6, 2010
READ – Naughty or Nice? Accused Cop Fights Back (Nice accused of intimidating Richard Prentice), Portland Mercury, July 5, 2007
READ – “Go Ahead and Call the Police” Chasse Sergeant in Off-Duty Road Rage Incident, Portland Mercury, August 8, 2010