Kyle Nice, the Portland Police Bureau sergeant involved in the death in custody of James Chasse in 2006 has been involved in an off-duty altercation with another motorist, the Portland Police Bureau has said this afternoon. From the cops:
"On April 3, 2010, Sergeant Kyle Nice, who is currently assigned to Central Precinct, was off-duty and driving in Washington County, when he and another motorist became involved in a confrontation.
Washington County deputies were called to the scene, investigated the incident and wrote an Information Report. No one was cited at the scene.
The Police Bureau is opening an investigation into the matter.
From the narrative, by sheriff's deputy J.Bieker, it appears that Nice told Bieker he got into an altercation with Washington County resident Neil Ruffin after Ruffin cut into his lane outside a Chevron station. The incident happened April 3.
Nice chased Ruffin, then stopped alongside Ruffin at the next light and said "thanks for almost hitting me back there," putting his thumb up.
Nice pulled away, then told the sheriff's deputy he saw Ruffin following him when he turned down a side street. So he pulled over, and walked toward Ruffin's car with his gun drawn.
"He said he was a little upset because his six week old child was in the car with two bottles of propane and it could have been a bad crash," wrote Bieker, in his report.
Ruffin, meanwhile, had a different story. "He told me he was at SW Garden Home and SW Oleson when this truck pulls up really close to him and honks its horn," wrote Bieker. "He said he looked over and saw Nice "flipping him off" and mouthing "fucken asshole" and then drives off."
Ruffin said he eventually pulled over, and opened his door. "And before he got out he saw Nice in between the front of his car and the back of Nice's truck with a pistol out," wrote Bieker. "He said Nice had the pistol close to his left side but the barrel was pointing right at him. He said Nice said 'You fucken can't drive you fucken ass hole." Ruffin decided to call the police because he "didn't know if Nice was crazy or what." When he called the police, Nice pulled out his police ID and said "go ahead and called the police."
Officer Bieker did not cite either man on the scene. A witness, Elizabeth Johnston, said "Nice seemed to be the more aggressive one out of the two that she could tell," however.
Updates as we have them.
Update, 4:43: "We don't treat police officers differently from anyone else," says Sgt.David Thompson, a spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff's office. "In fact if anything, we scrutinize them more because we know our interactions with police officers will be scrutinized."
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's 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."
Update 4:46: "The Mental Health Association of Portland asked for this man'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."
Update, 4:48: "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?"
Handelman also points to this story by Oregonian reporter Maxine Bernstein, about Central Precinct Officer Thomas Brennan, who was recently reassigned to the bureau's telephone reporting unit for raising concerns about Nice and Officer Christopher Humphreys, the other officer involved in Chasse's death.