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What Happened to James Chasse: Odd actions led officers to man who died in custody, police say

Friday, September 22, 2006

Odd actions led officers to man who died in custody, police say

from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein

Portland police say they stopped to talk to James Philip Chasse Jr. Sunday night after noticing him acting odd and possibly urinating on the street.

Police are continuing to investigate the 42-year-old man's death in police custody but released a few more details Thursday, after at least two witnesses filed complaints of excessive force with the city's Independent Police Review Division.

Three officers at a traffic stop in the area of Northwest 18th Avenue and Everett Street first spotted Chasse and suspected he may have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs or suffering a mental disorder. Later, they saw him again and thought Chasse was urinating on the street.

Police approached him, and Chasse ran off. Three officers ran after him.

According to a police statement, "as they reached him an officer pushed Chasse in the back with his forearm, which caused Chasse to stumble to the ground."

Witnesses Randall Stuart and Constance Doolan, who each filed separate complaints against police this week, said the three officers forcefully knocked the man to the ground at Northwest 13th Avenue and Everett.

Police say Chasse fought with the three officers as they tried to take him into custody. During the fight, police say, he bit Sgt. Kyle Nice and attempted to bite another officer. One of the officers placed his Taser gun to Chasse's torso to stun him, Detective Division Cmdr. Cliff Madison said.

Police say it had no effect on Chasse.

Witnesses, though, said police repeatedly kicked Chasse after he fell to the pavement and bit an officer. After being shocked, Chasse lost consciousness but was still breathing. Suddenly, he stopped moving and screaming, witnesses said.

Police called for paramedics when Chasse "appeared to have lost consciousness," a police release said Thursday. An ambulance crew and Portland Fire Bureau workers found Chasse's vital signs to be normal, police said.

Witnesses said they were disturbed that Chasse was bleeding from the mouth and wasn't taken to a hospital for more medical attention.

The officers took Chasse to jail on accusations of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. At the jail booking facility, nursing staff evaluated Chasse and determined he should receive further medical attention before being booked, police said Thursday.

Officers drove Chasse to Portland Adventist Hospital, but on the way, Chasse slumped in the back seat and lost consciousness. The officers and medical workers tried to revive him at Northeast 33rd Avenue and Clackamas Street but could not.

The Multnomah County medical examiner's office is awaiting toxicology results before releasing the cause of death. All officers involved have been interviewed. The case will be reviewed by prosecutors and a grand jury.

A family member and a friend said Chasse had suffered from a psychotic mental disorder since his teenage years.

"He was in and out of half-way houses and acute care settings with various medical/psychiatric diagnoses and treatments prescribed," his aunt Julie Chasse Cargill wrote in a letter. "The life of James Jr. was a sad struggle. But, how much sadder for this man to have died 'in custody.' "

Jason Renaud, a volunteer with the Mental Health Association of Portland, said he had gone to school with Chasse at the Metropolitan Learning Center. "This is a sad day for Jim, for his family, for all the people who helped him over the years," Renaud said.

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