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What Happened to James Chasse: Complaints filed, answers sought regarding in-custody death

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Complaints filed, answers sought regarding in-custody death

from the Portland Tribune

Portland police and James Chasse's family members still seek witnesses

The police officers who apprehended 42-year-old James Phillip Chasse on Sept. 17 encountered the man twice that night and suspected him of urinating in a downtown street before they arrested him, according to a Portland Police Bureau statement released Thursday afternoon.

Chasse later died in Portland police custody, and witnesses to his arrest have filed complaints about the incident with the city's Independent Police Review Division.

"Three different individuals have used our online system to file complaints," said Leslie Stevens, the division's director. "They have said they witnessed the initial encounter with Mr. Chasse."

According to the police statement, Portland officer Kyle Nice, 39; Portland officer Christopher Humphreys, 31; and Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Deputy Brett Burton, 26, first encountered Chasse near the intersection of Northwest 18th Avenue and Northwest Everett Street.

The officers described Chasse as "acting in a bizarre manner as if he was under the influence of intoxicants or possibly suffering from a mental disorder," the statement reads.

Later that night, the officers ran into Chasse again, and approached him when they suspected him of public urination. But Chasse took off, the officers said, and was pushed to the ground after a brief foot chase. The officers said Chasse fought with them and bit them, leading one of them to stun Chasse with a Taser.

An ambulance crew and a Portland Fire Bureau team treated Chasse and determined his vital signs were normal, the statement said, and police then transported Chasse to the Multnomah County Detention Center, where he was charged with assaulting a police officer.

There, nurses said Chasse needed further medical treatment before he could be booked, so he was transported to a hospital. But he died on the way, police said.

The Rev. Randall Stuart, one of the witnesses who has filed a complaint with the city's Independent Police Review Division, said he saw the altercation after the foot chase and thinks the police used "undue force."

He said in his complaint that after Chasse was Tasered, "I saw two kicks to the man's head or chest." After that, Stuart said, Chasse "was ramping down in consciousness, with diminished screaming, when the medical staff arrived, and by the time he was having the blood-pressure cuff on his arm, he had lost consciousness ... and turning a horrible color of gray."

A few minutes later, Stuart wrote, the medical team left and Chasse was carried away by the officers.

"The real critical moment of potential mistake seems to be at the moment that a badly beaten man, bleeding from the mouth, and Taser-stunned into deep unconsciousness ... was not then sent immediately to medical care," Stuart wrote.

As the Portland Police Bureau waits for the results of toxicology tests on Chasse's body, the bureau's homicide detectives continue to investigate the case and are asking people who witnessed Chasse's arrest to contact them with any information.

But they aren't the only ones.

On Thursday, an attorney representing Chasse's family, Tom Steenson, also released a statement asking those who witnessed the arrest to contact him. The family has also hired a private investigator.

“We are aware of the complaints that citizens have filed with the Independent Police Review Division,” said Chief Rosie Sizer in the police statement. “As with any death of an individual that occurs in police custody we want to ensure a thorough investigation is completed. Once that occurs, the case will go to the grand jury and then the entire case will be made available through the public records process.”

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