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November 25th, 2009 JAMES PITKIN | News Stories
 

Reasonable Doubts

Five Portlanders take the police union’s beanbag-video challenge.

     
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UNION BOSS: Sgt. Scott Westerman at the Nov. 24 police rally.
IMAGE: tom martinez

The head of the Portland police union says “any reasonable person” who watches the TriMet video of Officer Christopher Humphreys firing a beanbag round at a 12-year-old girl will conclude Humphreys was fully justified.

“This is exactly what the citizens of Portland expect police officers to do,” union president Sgt. Scott Westerman said at a news conference last week.

The Nov. 14 beanbag incident at an east Portland MAX stop has now become the most politically explosive local police action since the 2006 arrest of James Chasse Jr., a schizophrenic man who died in custody after allegedly peeing in public.

The same Officer Humphreys was central to the Chasse bust, taking Chasse to the ground in an arrest that left Chasse with 26 rib fractures and multiple contusions.

This month, Humphreys and Officer Aaron Dauchy found a 12-year-old girl riding MAX after being excluded from the train for allegedly stealing a purse the month before. A third officer was nearby. It was close to 11 pm.

The girl, who police say weighs more than 150 pounds, threw a punch at Dauchy and then struggled to escape until Humphreys shot her in the thigh with a beanbag round at a distance of about one foot. The shot left a bruise and successfully ended the struggle.

Police Chief Rosie Sizer said she was “troubled” by the video and ordered Humphreys assigned to desk duty pending an internal investigation. But Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman upped the penalty to administrative leave, taking Humphreys’ badge and gun until the probe is complete.

Both moves infuriated the 900-member Portland Police Association, which is holding a vote of no-confidence for both Sizer and Saltzman. The results are due Nov. 30.

As first reported on wweek.com, Sizer apologized by email to the entire Police Bureau for saying she was “troubled” by the video. That didn’t stop an estimated 650 cops from rallying downtown Nov. 24 to back up Humphreys and call for community support.

To test Westerman’s prediction about what “reasonable” people would conclude from the video, we asked one Portlander from each of the city’s five quadrants to watch it and sound off on the gunshot still reverberating in City Hall.

In this highly unscientific survey, only one of our respondents matched Westerman’s prognostication. Faced with that result, Westerman now says his judgment was based on the totality of evidence before him. To judge for yourself, watch the videos below:


NORTH PORTLAND

Marcelle Abel
Age:
30
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom
Neighborhood: St. Johns

“She’s big, but she’s still a child. It’s two male cops against a 12-year-old. She’s not going to win, no matter what. Obviously, the parents are the biggest problem, but the police should not have treated her that way, period.”

NORTHEAST PORTLAND

Alicia Simmons
Age
: 45
Occupation: Secretary
Neighborhood: Humboldt

“That’s too much force for that girl. I mean, there’s three men officers. That was unnecessary. It could have been my daughter. She didn’t have a weapon or nothing. All you have to do really is just grab her.”

SOUTHEAST PORTLAND

Mike Snawder
Age:
30
Occupation: Automotive store manager
Neighborhood: Lents

“I don’t think officers get enough respect for what they have to deal with every day. It was not lethal, and it was not excessive. I’m sure more kids with brothers get hit harder than that girl with the beanbag gun. I sure did.”

SOUTHWEST PORTLAND

Richard Harris
Age:
68
Occupation: Software engineer
Neighborhood: Collins View

“I think it might have been overkill, excessive use of force. I did see her swing at him, but I would expect the police would have the training and techniques to subdue someone. Knowing her age, it seems excessive to me.”

NORTHWEST PORTLAND

Jocelin Higgins
Age: 40
Occupation: Middle-school teacher
Neighborhood: Northwest

“It’s a little too excessive. I think it could have been handled better. I don’t think the beanbag gun was necessary. They could have used verbal tactics first. They’re three men, they’re bigger than her, and they have training.”


FACT: Local news stations KATU and KGW asked Web readers whether the beanbag shooting was justified. At KATU, 58 percent said yes. At KGW, 65 percent said yes.
 
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