Richard Prentice, a 33-year-old senior at Portland State University, was taping a poster to the wall of the federal courthouse at SW 3rd and Salmon on Thursday evening, June 14, when Central Precinct Officer Matt Wells pulled up in a squad car and told Prentice to take it down.
Prentice—whose poster accused Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Officers Christopher Humphreys and Kyle Nice of murdering James Chasse—says he complied with Wells' command to remove the poster from the courthouse wall, but added, "You can't stop me from putting it up someplace else."
"You're not putting that anywhere," Wells allegedly responded. The cop handcuffed Prentice behind his back, and waited for two other officers to arrive.
"They started telling me I didn't know what I was talking about, and asking where Jim Chasse's family was when he died," says Prentice. (Chasse died in police custody last September—his controversial death prompted an overhaul of police training and an ongoing federal lawsuit by his family, but Officers Nice and Humphreys were cleared by a grand jury.)
Wells then put Prentice in his squad car—without telling him why he was being arrested, or reading him his rights, Prentice claims—and drove him around the corner to a holding cell in the back of the PPB's Central Precinct building on SW 2nd.
Now, Prentice plans to sue the Portland Police Bureau, alleging that he was arrested because of the poster's content—and that he was intimidated by those same two officers in a downtown holding cell before being released.
Prentice says he sat in the cell in handcuffs—without being told why he was there or allowed to use a restroom. Officer Nice entered the cell, accompanied by a supervisor, according to Prentice.
"He asked me, 'Who do you think you are?' and stared at me and belittled me, asking me how much education I had, do I even have a job, what is my problem, and why am I putting [the posters] up?" says Prentice. "He started shouting, holding up his badge in my face and saying, 'This is me! I'm the guy!' I thought he was going to beat the shit out of me right there."
Nice asked Prentice if he was at the grand jury hearing last October, when the officers were cleared, Prentice says. Nice then allegedly told Prentice he had no business putting the posters up, and that "if [Chasse's death is] anybody's fault, it's EMS's [Emergency Medical Service] fault for clearing him," Prentice says. A medical team cleared Chasse for transportation to jail on the night of his death ["Death in Custody," News, Sept 21].
After leaving the cell, Nice allegedly returned five minutes later with one of Prentice's posters, saying, "You don't mind if I take one of these with me, do you?"
Prentice says Officer Humphreys came into the cell later.
"I'd been pacing around, and he told me to turn around and face him," says Prentice. "And he stood there looking at me, my face four inches away from his face. Then his shoulders dropped a bit and his demeanor changed. He asked me if I wanted to use the restroom."
Humphreys allegedly asked Prentice why he was putting the posters up. "I don't think James Chasse should be dead," Prentice said. "Humphreys told me he didn't either, and that he feels really terrible about it and sees Chasse's face every night before he goes to bed."
Later, Prentice says, Wells returned, called Prentice a "coward" and a "dipshit," and told him if he saw Prentice putting any more posters up, he'd arrest him and cite him again. Then he released Prentice with a citation for "advertising on the street."
The PPB's records division did not furnish records pertaining to the arrest by press time, seven days after the Mercury's request; Prentice supplied the citation paperwork. The district attorney's office says it hasn't received the case, but could still get it before Prentice's July 9 court date.
Still angry about his arrest a week later, Prentice confronted Wells outside Central Precinct along with his girlfriend, Susannah Thiel, on Wednesday night, June 20.
"Richard asked the officer why he'd arrested him," says Thiel. "And the officer said he wasn't allowed to put things up on public buildings. Richard said he'd only been arrested after taking the poster down."
"Officer Wells told Richard he could make the decision to arrest him any time he wanted," Thiel continues. "And when he asked whether it was normal procedure for Officers Nice and Humphreys to come in the cell, Wells told him, 'They wanted to look at the person who was putting up slanderous flyers about them.'"
Attorney Benjamin Haile, of law firm Haile Greenwald, is considering taking on Prentice's case. "This is a really startling violation of his rights, based on everything he has told me," Haile says. The officers' alleged actions appear to violate Prentice's First and Fourth Amendment rights to free speech and against unreasonable seizure, according to Haile.
Meanwhile, Copwatch's Dan Handelman pointed to five Portland Police Bureau directives—on professional conduct, retaliation, courtesy, disparate treatment, and misuse of official position—that the officers may have violated.
The mayor's office has known about Prentice's complaint since at least June 20, based on an email sent by the mayor's public safety policy manager, Maria Rubio, to Assistant Police Chief Lynnae Berg.
Rubio says the mayor is going to wait until the IPR process is done before commenting publicly.
Prentice—a 200-pound former linebacker, now studying geography at PSU—has a history with the Police Bureau and the Independent Police Review (IPR). In September 2006, he filed an IPR complaint and a tort claim alleging he had been severely beaten that March in North Precinct by several police officers and Multnomah County sheriff's deputies. The officers were exonerated by the IPR; meanwhile, the tort claim was rejected by the city's senior claims analyst, Becky Chiao, who wrote that Prentice "was intoxicated that evening" and that his memory was impaired.
Prentice says that experience is what led him to make the posters in the first place. "When I heard about the Chasse case, I kept thinking that could have been me," says Prentice. "I thought I'd use my First Amendment right to free speech."
Police spokesperson Brian Schmautz says Prentice was arrested and detained between 8:38pm and 9:21pm on the night in question.