Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The Thin Blue Whine, Pt. I: Petulant Police Demand Impunity
Stand up for thuggery! Hundreds of Portland, Oregon police officers and supporters surround City Hall during a protest march on behalf of Officer Chris Humphreys, who was placed on administrative leave (that is, paid vacation) following repeated use of unnecessary force -- including the lethal beating of a terrified and helpless 145-lb. man who suffered from schizophrenia.
Violence "is unpredictable, chaotic and thoughtless" by its nature, observed Peter Taylor in a recent op-ed column published in The Oregonian. "It doesn't like to be confined and doesn't lend itself to cooperation.... It is saddening to see the effects of violence on its victims, those who witness it and, yes, also those who wield it against others."
As the final clause in that sentence suggests, Taylor's point is not to sympathize with victims of "unpredictable, chaotic and thoughtless" violence, but rather to defend those who often employ it. Taylor is an officer with the Portland Police Bureau, and his column was intended to explain why he -- along with several hundred others -- took part in a protest march and rally outside Portland's City Hall in defense of Officer Chris Humphreys.
Along with his comrades, Officer Taylor wore a customized t-shirt containing the slogan: "I am Chris Humphreys." He used the same rallying cry to wrap up his op-ed column. And like his comrades, Taylor -- either through invincible innate ignorance, or as a result blindness induced through cult-like devotion to his professional clique (these are not mutually exclusive possibilities) -- cannot understand that this description is an indictment.
Last month, Humprheys was put on administrative leave (which is a "money for nothing" proposition) after shooting a 12-year-old girl point-blank with a "less lethal" beanbag round during what we're all but required to call a "fight" or "altercation" on a MAX train platform in Portland. The 12-year-old, who was banned from traveling on the train, put up what resistance she could when Officer Aaron Dauchy tried to place her under arrest. She was down on the ground and wasn't going anywhere when Humphreys, after circling around to find the best angle, shot her with the beanbag round. A third officer was present during the incident, just in case the two tax-engorged "heroes" couldn't handle the little girl.
Two police officers should be able to handle an unarmed 12-year-old girl, even one who weighed 150 pounds, most of it bad attitude.
"I don't care how big she is," commented retired police officer Mike Davis, a 30-year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau. "Two grown men using proper holds should be able to subdue her and get her into the police car without incident."
Davis, who now works for a fitness company, believes that episodes of this sort are the inevitable product that results from adding "less lethal" toys to the arsenal of physically unfit police officers.
"The officers are in pathetic shape, for the most part," Davis told The Oregonian. "If you don't have any confidence that you can handle something physically, you go up the ladder too quickly on the continuum of force." As a result, police "rely too much on all these little tools we've go: Taser. Mace. Beanbag gun. Asp. You can't shoot everyone. You can't Taser everyone. Well, maybe we can."
When fired at point-blank range, a beanbag round can seriously injure or even kill a victim, so the victim was lucky to escape with a bad bruise. But this is not the only reason the girl shot by Officer Humphreys could consider herself fortunate. The last time Humphreys was involved in a case of excessive force, the victim didn't survive.
Twice a victim: James Chasse, seen here before being lethally "protected and served" by three of Portland's, ahem, "Finest," was a successful musician before being stricken with schizophrenia.
On September 17 2006 (Constitution Day, ironically enough), Humphreys was one of three law enforcement officers -- two PPB officers and a Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy -- who chased down and beat to death a 145-pound schizophrenia victim named James Chasse.
Known to many people in his neighborhood as a gentle and talented man -- a successful musician and artist before the onset of his mental illness -- Chasse was beaten so severely by the bold and valiant guardians of the public that nearly all of his ribs were fractured. Several of them had been pulverized. He was also treated to a dose from law enforcement's favorite "non-lethal" toy, the portable electro-shock torture device (more commonly called a Taser).
A coroner's report listed "blunt force trauma" as the cause of Chasse's death. The official report on Chasse's arrest described the cause of death as "broad-based .... blunt-force chest trauma" consistent with an impact in which the victim was slammed against a hard surface with a body on top of him -- in short, with being "pancaked."
Chasse weighed 142 pounds. Humphreys, a well-fed tax-feeder, outweighed him by roughly 100 pounds. Humphreys initially claimed that he didn't land on Chasse, but rather went "right over and past" him. That would mean that the fatal concussive blows that wrecked nearly all of Chasse's ribs were the result of either hands-on brutality, or an immaculate beating by unseen creatures from another realm. My money is on some combination of "pancaking" and gang violence inflicted by Humphreys and his comrades.
Witnesses at the scene describe how Humphreys and his colleagues (tax-feeders only operate in packs, remember) repeatedly punched and kicked the victim. The officers did admit -- in the highly qualified, self-justifying language of trained liars -- to using "pressure point" strikes and judiciously applied blows with fists and forearms. But by that time, according to the post-mortem, were incidental to Chasse's death; the fatal damage had already been done by the time those blows were struck. Chasse's "offense" was public urination.
The beating he endured, however, was "street justice" administered for the supposed crime of "contempt of cop," which he committed by fleeing from the armed strangers who accosted him, as would any rational person incapable of effectively defending himself against the state's designated agents of "unpredictable, chaotic and thoughtless" violence.
A life drains away while tax-feeders dither: The mortally woundedJames Chasse lies hog-tied at the feet of the police who beat him. Why weren't the EMTs -- the only people in this picture ready and inclined to do something worthwhile -- permitted to take him to the hospital?
After being beaten to within an inch of his life, Chasse was taken to jail. He slipped that final inch en route to the hospital -- not in an ambulance, mind you, but bound hand and foot in the back of a police car.
Nearly two hours had elapsed between the beating and Chasse's death, much of it wasted at the local jail. Detention officers, after taking a good look at the victim, refused to book him into the jail, demanding that he be taken to a hospital instead. Had he received immediate medical help, Chasse might still be alive. An ambulance was available on-site after the arrest. But the Droogs who murdered him -- Officer Humphreys and Kyle Nice, and Deputy Bret Burton, who has since been hired by the Portland Police Bureau -- had other priorities.
When it comes to beating and hog-tying people on the streets, the murder of James Chasse wasn't Chris Humprheys' first rodeo. An investigation conducted by the independent Wilamette Week discovered that Humphreys "has used force more often than almost all of the other 785 officers" whose arrests were cataloged in a PPB database. Only one officer had been involved in a greater number of "use of force" incidents.
Humphreys was second among 422 officers who used takedowns, restraining holds and pressure points on suspects. Among 295 officers who had used "impact" strikes -- the use of punches, kicks, batons, or flashlights -- Humphreys was at the top of the list. He was number five on the hit parade of officers who had injured suspects. Of the 17 suspects injured at his hands, only two of them were taken to a hospital.
In one episode, Humphreys struck a man 30 times with his baton before discovering -- D'oh! -- that the victim wasn't the suspect he was after. This incident led to a lawsuit against the Portland municipal government that was settled for $90,000 in taxpayer money. Under the terms of that settlement, Humphreys wasn't required to admit wrongdoing.
Last July, Multnomah County hit up the taxpayers for another $925,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by James Chasse's family. This happened after the PPB review board reportedly cleared Humphreys and his cohorts of wrongdoing. Not that there was a great deal of suspense involved in awaiting the board's ruling, of course.
Thugs in arms, unite! Sgt. Scott Westermann, chief commissar of the Portland police union.
Even if one concludes that Chasse's death was the result of a tragic mishap rather than a crime, Humphreys still has the kind of baggage that would make him, at best, a dubious representative of the police.
Yet Sgt. Scott Westermann, capo of the Portland police union, insists that Humphreys has always "exemplified everything one could imagine a police officer should be." That is to say, all cops should be Christopher Humphreys. Which would mean, of course, that there would be nothing wrong with all detainees ending up like James Chasse.
Humphreys was put on "administrative leave" -- a supposedly punitive paid vacation -- after shooting the 12-year-old with the beanbag shotgun. This decision riled up Westermann and his knuckle-draggers, who began howling that Humphreys had "suffered" enough.
Following a union no-confidence vote and the above-mentioned street march, Police Chief Rosie Sizer and Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman decided to placate the armed legions by putting Humphreys back on active duty, albeit behind a desk.
In a spectacularly perverse coda to the affair, Humphreys -- the one whose bulk inflicted the mortal injuries on an incurably sick, helpless man, the same officer who rarely considers it necessary to take the victims of his officially sanctioned violence to the hospital -- has filed a stress disability claim.
This little bit of benefit-spiking will probably pay off handsomely when it comes time for Humphreys to collect his taxpayer-provided union pension. None of his victims -- past or future -- will enjoy the same benefits, of course. And the taxpayers will continue to absorb the costs of indemnifying the "unpredictable, chaotic and thoughtless" violence carried out by police who insist that the public should see Humphreys as Chaucer's "parfait, gentil knight," rather than a marauding misfit with a government-issued license to kill.
Whole lotta Rosie: Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer folded like a poorly manufactured deck chair in the face of the local Jackboot Union's demands. (Hey, is it just me, or does Rosie look like Sean Hannity in a Princess Di wig?)
"Portland police are all about imposing discipline, not exercising it," observes Oregonian columnist Steve Duin, who laments the culpable neglect displayed by an "aloof [police] commissioner, absentee mayor and anything-goes police chief."
That Humphreys is considered a model police officer by the police union comes as no surprise to critics of the increasingly militarized Portland Police Bureau.
As is the case elsewhere in recent years, the PPB has become increasingly aggressive even as violent crime has continued the downward trend it has followed pretty consistently for more than a decade and a half. Duin lists some particularly egregious examples:
*Eunice Crowder, a 71-year-old blind woman, was pepper-sprayed "with such enthusiasm that her glass eye popper out of its socket"; police then shot her with a Taser four times "as she lay in the dirt." None of the officers responsible for that atrocity were disciplined
*Barbara Weich, a 58-year-old art gallery owner, was convicted of "contempt of cop" when she reacted with disdain after being given a ticket by motorcycle cop Greg Adrian. After pursuing Weich for a short distance and pulling her over, Adrian hit her in the face "with enough force to leave bruising on her cheek and neck," then grabbed her arm, pulled it through the window, twisted it, put his weight on it, and fractured it. Adrian, naturally, was never disciplined.
The experience of Don Joughin's family offers a useful snapshot of the vulgar arrogance and casual violence that define Portland's police culture.
In August 2002, George W. Bush inflicted himself on Portland, which meant that the local police were deployed in riot gear to keep demonstrators caged inside "free speech zones." At one point a contingent of police unleashed a volley of pepper-spray against protesters who weren't content to be cattle-penned in a holding area blocks away from the presidential route.
Local activist Don Joughin, who had brought his wife and three children, including an eleven-month-old baby, sought to leave the area without being trampled by the protesters or baptized in pepper spray by the Jackboots. He turned to a police officer obstructing an exit and asked how he and his family could leave the embattled intersection. "He pointed and said to exit to the [northeast], into the spraying police opposite him," Joughin recalled.
With the crowd pressing down on him and his children, Joughin pleaded with the officer to let him and his family through. "He looked at me, and drew out his can from his hip and sprayed directly at me," Joughin recalled. Joughin didn't bear the brunt of that criminal assault, but his three-year-old caught some of the blast. The assailant then turned on Joughin's wife and the infant "and doused both of their heads entirely from a distance of less than 3 feet," Joughin recalled.
Pure, unadulterated viciousness: Don Joughin comforts his eleven-month-old son after the infant was doused in pepper spray by one of Portland's "Finest."
For several panicked minutes, Joughin tried to flee the area and find help for his family. The police -- you know, those helpful people who, according to official propaganda, are supposed to protect innocent people from criminal violence -- reacted by closing ranks and blocking the Joughin family's escape. They didn't relent until someone in "authority" gave them permission to let the anxious man and his family leave.
The last thing Joughin heard from the heroes in blue as he departed was the derisive comment, "That's why you shouldn't bring kids to protests."
Indeed: If you do, there's a good chance they'll be victims of a criminal assault -- one that would be described as an act of terrorism involving a WMD (a chemical weapon) if carried out against a government official -- at the hands of the police.
We are constantly told that the increasingly frequent episodes of criminal violence by police are aberrations, and that "most" police are good, decent, honorable people. Like many others, I know people in that line of work who meet that description.
My question is this: Just where the hell are those good, decent, honorable police officers when their comrades are committing crimes of the kind committed against Don Joughin's children? How can a police officer direct a weaponized stream of caustic solution into the face of a terrified eleven-month-old baby in the serene knowledge that nobody among his peers would object? What does it say about the police culture in Portland that the reaction of the officers on-site was to rebuke the father of that infant, rather than grabbing the assailant and beating some decency into him?
Well, thanks to the Portland police union, we have our answer. This kind of thing is to be expected of police officers in that city, because each of them is Christopher Humphreys.
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