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What Happened to James Chasse: Portland mayor pushes for inquiry into man's death in police custody

Monday, September 25, 2006

Portland mayor pushes for inquiry into man's death in police custody


Portland's mayor is urging an open and quick investigation into the case of a man who died in police custody about a week ago.

"I have asked that the investigation into this incident be as public and transparent as possible, and that the community be given the information it needs to understand what happened as quickly as possible," Mayor Tom Potter said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

The incident happened on Sunday, Sept. 17, when officers confronted James Chasse in Northwest Portland. Police said he was acting erratically. They eventually used a taser to take him into custody, according to investigators.

Chasse was showing signs of breathing problems, police said, and medics were called to the scene. After checking out Chasse, police said his vital signs were normal and they took him to the Multnomah County Detention Center.

But officers said once again he had breathing problems, so they took him to the hospital. Chasse died en route, according to police.

The mayor said that "several legal inquiries" were already underway to determine precisely what occurred during the arrest.

"Any request to conduct a public inquest into this death is a legal determination that only the District Attorney's Office can make, and we will respect whatever he decides and cooperate fully," Potter said.

An autopsy by the state medical examiner showed Chasse died from blunt force trauma to the chest - injuries officials said could have been caused by falling down, or someone falling on top of him.

On Monday, Chasse's family also spoke out. They said he suffered from mental illness and they believe police used excessive force.

"This is an excruciatingly tragic end to James' life," said Jim Chasse, James' father.

"He was probably the gentlest person I have ever known," Chasse's brother added.

The family has hired a private investigator and a wrongful death lawsuit was expected.

An investigation by police is ongoing. Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer spoke briefly about the case Monday afternoon.

“We will rigorously examine our actions, our policies, training and procedures," she said. "We ask Portlanders to examine if our social safety nets for the disadvantages meet their needs and meet our communities’ expectations.”

Newschannel 8 has also learned that two of the police officers involved – Kyle Nice and Christopher Humphrey – were both previously named as defendants in separate civil rights lawsuits. In both cases, the jury sided with police in the excessive force claims.

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