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Officer involved in Chasse death named in previous brutality lawsuit

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CORRECTION

On Oct. 26, 2006, the Portland Tribune published a story about two of the Portland police officers involved with the in-custody death of James Chasse Jr.

The headline in the electronic version of the story contained a statement about the previous use of force by Sgt. Kyle Nice, which is not factually supported by any source.

The Portland Tribune regrets the publication of the original headline.


Portland police officer Christopher Humphreys, involved last month in the death of James Chasse Jr., was named in a federal lawsuit alleging police brutality that the city settled for $90,000 earlier this year.

And in instances of use of force, Humphreys is tied for No. 2 within the police bureau since it began collecting those statistics in 2004, according to records obtained by the Portland Tribune.

The city admitted no fault in the settlement. Humphreys and other officers were dismissed from the lawsuit as a condition of the payout.

But one witness to the altercation said in court testimony that the man being arrested was so badly beaten he could only describe him as a 'breathing corpse.'

Humphreys has used force more times - 78 - than all but one other Portland cop since late 2004. Another cop involved in the Chasse incident, Sgt. Kyle Nice, has 17 recorded uses of force in that time, which does not make him stand out statistically.

Humphreys also has been the subject of seven Internal Affairs Division complaints - one for each of his years on the force - with two of those cases still open. One of those relates to Chasse. Such complaints and details of the ensuing investigations generally are not considered public records. Nice, a 14-year veteran, has had two such complaints, including the Chasse case.

Like Humphreys, Nice also has had a use-of-force issue that led to a lawsuit.

In the lawsuits against both Humphreys and Nice, people accused them of excessive force, Humphreys for using his baton on a man's legs, Nice for shooting a man in the left arm.

Police filed criminal charges against both men they were trying to arrest, and juries cleared each of them. They each later filed federal civil lawsuits. A jury found in favor of the city and Nice in the lawsuit filed against them.

Humphreys did not return a phone call or an e-mail seeking comment. Nice is out of town until next week and did not respond to requests for comment.

'Referencing the recent traumatic incident, you surely must recognize the psychological impact it has had on each of these officers,' Nice's direct supervisor, Lt. Mike Lee, wrote in an e-mail. 'With that in mind, I would be surprised if either of them was willing to speak with any reporter at this time.'

These are the stories of lawsuits involving Humphreys and Nice, reconstructed through court and police documents, which include interviews with and sworn testimony from the officers involved.

• • •

The man in the driveway was getting worked over. The neighbors watching had no doubts about that.

Across Southeast 85th Avenue, John Repp watched through his living room window.

What he heard sounded like 'Sylvester Stallone in 'Rocky,' when … he was punching that cow in the meat market. If you took a stick and hit that, it makes kind of a 'thwack.' '

He heard the man on the ground screaming as police officers punched, kicked and hit him with a metal baton.

'It was terrible to hear,' Repp said, ' … the guy was screaming for his life.'

Like other witnesses, Repp said he could not make out what the officers were telling the man, Chaz Miller. The officers said their commands were consistent - 'Stop resisting!' or 'Stop moving!' - but to most of the witnesses it just sounded like noise.

Deputy District Attorney Sean Riddell asked one witness, Mark Parkinson, whether Miller was struggling, resisting arrest.

'Now, would you think that Rodney King was struggling when he was just trying to get to his feet?' Parkinson asked in return. 'Because what I saw was him laying on the ground being beat. I did not see him struggling. I saw him laying on the ground being beat.'

In the early morning of April 21, 2003, Humphreys drove his patrol car to 3205 S.E. 87th Ave. and met two other officers, Erik Strohmeyer and Lon Sweeney, who were following up on a domestic violence call a few hours earlier.

According to sworn testimony, a drunken boyfriend went into his girlfriend's house, angry, and stopped her from calling 911. She tried to Mace him, and he pushed her down and took the canister, then sprayed her instead. She called the police after he left.

The boyfriend, whom she described as an olive-complexioned man with dark hair, left with a mutual friend, who was blond and fair-skinned. The mutual friend drove a Ford Ranger pickup.

The officers found the Ranger they were looking for, which they thought would contain the boyfriend, Paul Swayze, according to court testimony.

Strohmeyer and Humphreys knocked on the driver's-side window. The blond man inside stirred, then laid back down. Strohmeyer knocked harder, announcing himself as a police officer and the man slowly sat up. Only later would they find out that he was Miller, the suspect's friend.

Riddell asked Humphreys during the criminal trial whether the man in the truck made any gestures or movements.

'I knew he shook his head … kind of a side-to-side, like a no motion, … as we were to get him out of the vehicle,' Humphreys said, according to a transcript.

Strohmeyer threatened to break the window with his metal baton, and the man reached slowly toward the ignition.

Strohmeyer broke the window.

Humphreys moved toward the man in the truck and blasted him in the face with pepper spray.

Miller started the car and drove off. Sweeney maneuvered him to a stop a few blocks away.

Civilian witnesses said they saw Strohmeyer punch Miller in the head several times through the broken driver's-side window, in between yelling at him to get out of the truck.

Humphreys was on the passenger side, trying to pull Miller out by the legs. He couldn't get a good grip, so he pulled out his baton and began hitting Miller with it on soft tissue below the waist, as he said he was taught to do. He hit Miller with the baton between 10 and 12 times.

Parkinson, one of the neighbors, said he saw Miller, whom he knew, scramble out of the truck and go down in his driveway on Southeast 85th Avenue near Powell Boulevard at about 4:50 a.m.

Parkinson watched through a window as the officers surrounded Miller. Humphreys pulled out his baton again and swung it against Miller's legs another 10 to 12 times while other officers wrestled with Miller.

Parkinson said he could see Miller clinging with one arm to the rear axle of a truck in Parkinson's driveway.

Another officer showed up after Humphreys called for a Taser. Two 50,000-volt shocks with the Taser pressed up against Miller failed to subdue him.

'I mean, it basically had no effect … other than making him fight harder,' Humphreys testified.

The officer with the Taser backed up and fired the weapon's barbed probes into Miller, and police handcuffed Miller.

'Describe what you saw of Miller's body,' the public defender asked Repp's son, David, who had watched from his bedroom window.

'A breathing corpse,' he said.

Police charged Miller with attempting to elude police in a vehicle, attempting to elude police on foot, reckless driving, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. A jury acquitted him. Miller sued the city last year, and in February the city settled the case before trial, agreeing to pay $32,683.96 in damages and $59,485.24 in attorney's fees.

• • •

Ron Barton woke up and got shot. That's pretty much all he knew until people told him later what happened.

Two Portland cops, Nice and another officer, a rookie, thought he pointed a gun at them. Nice shot Barton in the left arm, sure that Barton aimed a shotgun at him in a right-handed pose.

Barton later passed a polygraph examination in which he said he never touched the gun. He also is left-handed. And lab tests showed no atomized blood on the shotgun, which would have been present if he had been holding it when he was shot.

After he was shot, as he collapsed facedown on the floor in his own blood, he cried out repeatedly, 'What did I do?'

It was early in the evening, Aug. 24, 1997. Nice, then an officer, was the second cop to respond to a call of 'threats' at 13953 S.E. Division St.

Barton lived in apartment No. 4 and had a running dispute with a neighbor over unauthorized cars taking up space in the parking lot.

Barton had been out with a friend, drinking beer. The neighbor's mother stopped him in the parking lot when he started writing down license plate numbers.

The mother told Barton to watch out, that her son might shoot him. He told her the kid had better finish the job or he'd come looking for her son. When the son heard that, he called the police.

Barton was asleep - door open but screen door shut - on the couch in his living room. There was a phone next to his head. And when Nice and the rookie peered in, in bad light, they saw the stock of a shotgun on the couch nearby, which Barton later said he bought after being burglarized twice. He stuffed it into the couch cushions, safety on, and hadn't touched it since, he said.

Nice and the rookie knocked 'vigorously' on the door, according to police records, announcing themselves as police. Barton started moving.

Both officers believed that Barton wheeled the shotgun toward them. Nice raised his police bureau-issued Glock handgun, and fired it once through the screen door.

There were no civilian witnesses.

Police charged Barton with two counts of recklessly endangering another person. A jury acquitted him. After the civil trial for the lawsuit he filed afterward, the jury ruled for the city.