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What Happened to James Chasse: Flier calling police names not a crime, county says

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Flier calling police names not a crime, county says

from The Oregonian

Arrest - Richard Prentice, 33, was held for taping up a flier criticizing three officers in the death of James Chasse

The Multnomah County district attorney won't prosecute a 33-year-old man who was arrested June 14 by a Portland police officer for posting a flier on the federal courthouse calling three Portland police officers "murderers" and "scumbags."

Richard Prentice says he was taken into custody and cited for unlawfully "advertising on streets" because his flier offended the police -- a violation of his constitutional rights.

"It was an abuse of power," said Prentice, a senior at Portland State University, who said he was handcuffed, locked in a cell and then berated by several police officers. He was cited and released later that evening.

The 8-by-11-inch flier has the names and photographs of Portland police officers Brett Burton, Kyle Nice and Christopher Humphreys. It reads "WANTED . . . These SCUM BAGS killed an innocent man named Jim Chasse by beating him to death. They are still employed by the Portland police department."

The district attorney's office declined to prosecute this week, and on Wednesday the Police Bureau released the arrest report.

According to the report, Officer Matt Wells was driving by the federal courthouse in downtown when he spotted Prentice taping up a flier. Wells told Prentice to take it down. Prentice responded, "I'll post them someplace else then" and ripped it down.

Prentice says Wells handcuffed him and seized his stack of fliers, which included others critical of police. One was a photo of a burning police car and the other depicted a large gun pointed at a police officer's head under the words "Revolutions don't happen by themselves. We need your help."

Portland police spokeswoman Officer Cathe Kent said Wells was within his rights to handcuff and detain Prentice. "It depends on (Prentice's) demeanor," Kent said.

Prentice says Wells was wrong to charge him with a crime when he was exercising his free speech rights. Prentice says he is also upset that the police depicted in the poster came to confront him as he sat in a holding cell at Central Precinct.

The Multnomah County district attorney's office rejected the case this week because of the dubious constitutionality of the ordinance cited by the officer. In a memo, the district attorney cites the city attorney's own reservations about the law, which bans the posting of notices on public buildings but is seen as vague and overbroad.

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