The Portland Police Bureau officer involved in the death of James Chasse Jr. is facing the threat of another lawsuit—this time relating to his use of force against a woman claiming to suffer from mental health issues.
Chasse, a 42-year-old man with schizophrenia, died in police custody in 2006. It is now hotly rumored that Officer Christopher Humphreys' alleged assault of Lisa Ann Coppock occurred just a few days after he completed Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), the police bureau's education in how to diffuse confrontations with people in mental health crisis (the exact date of Humphreys' training is not known). The training was expanded to include all the bureau's officers in November 2006, in direct response to controversy created by the Chasse incident.
Attorney J. Ashlee Albies filed a tort claim with the city on October 21, 2008, giving notice of Coppock's intention to sue.
"The circumstances that gave rise to Ms. Coppock's claims arose on or about April 22, 2008, when Portland Police Officers Christopher Humphreys and Rod Nusum assaulted, falsely arrested, and discriminated against Ms. Coppock at the Gresham City Hall transit stop," alleged Albies in the claim letter, a copy of which was obtained from the city's Office of Risk Management through a public records request.
Albies works for Steenson, Schuman, Tewksbury, Creighton, and Rose, the same law firm handling the Chasse case ["The Chasse Files," Feature, November 15, 2007], but has declined further comment on the tort claim for the time being.
Further details of the incident are unclear, since it is against police bureau policy to release use-of-force documentation to the media while a case is pending criminal trial, or to comment on cases where litigation is pending. But Coppock was charged with theft of services in the amount of $50, resisting arrest, and interfering with a police officer, and is scheduled to stand trial for her alleged offenses at Multnomah County Circuit Court on February 23.
Coppock's criminal defense attorney, Maite Uranga with Metropolitan Public Defender Services, has also declined comment on the case, but issued a subpoena to Officer Humphreys on January 6 requiring him to appear at the trial next month, according to records on the Oregon Judicial Information Network. She also filed Coppock's notice of intent to rely on a defense of mental disease or defect, diminished responsibility, or extreme emotional disturbance on January 7.
Police Chief Rosie Sizer has yet to make a recommendation on discipline for Humphreys related to an internal affairs investigation into Chasse's death, the outcome of which is still unclear.
Humphreys, who has been protected by the city attorney's office from having to comment publicly on the Chasse lawsuit, will now be required to testify in court at Coppock's trial about his use of force against a person claiming to suffer from mental health issues. Coppock declined comment through her attorneys.
Meanwhile, Portland Police Association President Scott Westerman has been an outspoken defender of Humphreys since he took office last November, when he told the Mercury, "There's nothing in the Chasse incident that CIT training would have helped."
Regarding the Coppock case, Westerman says, "I don't want anybody to assume that Officer Humphreys is automatically guilty of anything, and the fact that he is named in the suit, to me, is not surprising." He continues, "The fact is, his name has been dragged through the media for three years on a case that should have been resolved two years ago. I strongly disagree that he is developing a bad apple reputation. He is one of the hardest working cops that the Portland Police Bureau has, and just because somebody has a tort claim filed against them does not assume that the officer has done something wrong.
"Perhaps this woman or her attorney saw the arresting officer's name and decided to try to capitalize on it," Westerman continues. "Down the road, I am confident he is going to get honorably cleared."
Westerman says he has also heard from police bureau sources that the Use of Force Review Board has recommended no discipline for Humphreys regarding the Chasse case, although that information has yet to be released by the city, which Westerman describes as "frustrating."
"We don't know a lot about the incident yet, but it certainly seems like Officer Humphreys has had his share of lawsuits filed against him," says Copwatch activist Dan Handelman. "Hopefully since the bureau is now tracking lawsuits against its officers through its employee information system, this will now lead to some corrective action."