THE PORTLAND POLICE Bureau has opened an investigation into Sergeant Kyle Nice—one of the officers involved in the 2006 death in custody of James Chasse Jr., a man with schizophrenia—after Nice pulled his gun during an off-duty road rage incident in Beaverton, challenging the other driver to "go ahead and call the police."
Neil Ruffin did indeed call the police after Nice pulled his gun, on Saturday afternoon, April 3. Nice followed Ruffin after he cut the officer off outside a Chevron station at SW Allen and Scholls Ferry Road. Nice yelled at Ruffin at a stoplight, who then followed the officer for a distance.
Eventually, both men pulled over. Ruffin planned to get out of the car, but before he could, "he saw Nice in between the front of his car and the back of Nice's truck with a pistol out," according to Washington County Sheriff's Deputy James Bieker, who wrote the report for the incident.
Ruffin told Bieker that Nice had pointed the gun at him. Meanwhile Nice told Bieker he had only drawn the gun because he was concerned for his own safety with a six-week-old child and two cans of propane in his car. Nice said he hadn't pointed the gun at Ruffin, while a witness, Elizabeth Johnston, said she couldn't be 100 percent sure if the gun was pointed at Ruffin or not. She also said, "Nice seemed to be the more aggressive one out of the two," according to Bieker's report.
Nice was not charged with any crime following the incident.
"We don't treat police officers differently from anyone else," says Sergeant David Thompson, a spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff's Office. "In fact, if anything, we scrutinize them more."
So, why wasn't Nice charged with menacing?
"It's subjective," says Thompson. "He didn't point the gun at Ruffin, at least by his and by a witness account. There was also the justification that he feared for his safety and his child's safety, sufficiently to feel threatened enough to pull his gun out at that point.
"The line between self-protection and menacing," Thompson continues, "you need to be threatening someone. It didn't appear from what the witness said that he was threatening this man. And, Mr. Ruffin's justification for following this guy didn't really make sense. He said he thought [Nice] was 'crazy' and our deputy asked him, 'Well why follow him then?' And his response didn't really make sense."
"The Mental Health Association of Portland [MHAP] asked for [Nice's] resignation in October 2009," says Jason Renaud with MHAP. "We stand by that request, we don't believe he's the sort of man Portland can rely on to protect people, and we'd like to see him no longer be a Portland police officer."
"This is what happens when you don't punish officers for the worst behavior," says Dan Handelman, an activist with Portland Copwatch. "The spokesperson for Washington County is saying that the other gentleman's behavior is strange, but Sergeant Nice's behavior needs explaining too. He was willing to engage in a gunfight while driving a very young child in his truck?"