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What Happened to James Chasse: Autopsy shows fractured ribs led to Portland man's death

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Autopsy shows fractured ribs led to Portland man's death

from Associated Press +

A man who died in police custody suffered 16 broken ribs, including some that punctured a lung and caused massive internal bleeding, according to autopsy results released by his family.

James P. Chasse Jr., 42, died Sept. 17 after three officers struggled to arrest him in the Pearl District.

The state medical examiner's report also showed that Chasse suffered multiple bruises, contusions and abrasions to his head, chest and abdomen. Toxicology tests revealed no alcohol or drugs in his system.

According to police, officers spotted Chasse acting oddly as if he either were on drugs or had a mental disorder, and then possibly urinating in the street before they walked up to him. When he ran, they chased him.

Tom Steenson, the family's attorney, released the autopsy report because Chasse's family was disturbed by the extent of the injuries and is continuing its own independent investigation of his death. They highlighted that Chasse, who suffered from schizophrenia, had a slight build. He was 5 foot 9 inches tall and weighed 145 pounds.

In addition, a deputy medical examiner's initial investigative report done the night of Chasse's death indicates that paramedics who first evaluated a handcuffed Chasse on the street said they were not told Chasse may have gone into respiratory arrest. They also said they were unaware officers had used a Taser on Chasse, the report said.

The paramedics said they found Chasse conscious and his vital signs in the normal range, and let the police officers decide whether to transport Chasse to a hospital, Dwayne Bigoni, the deputy medical examiner, wrote in the report.

Police then shackled Chasse's ankles together, tied his feet to his hands in a "hog-tie" and drove him to jail, accusing him of resisting arrest and interfering with police. There, jail nurses determined he needed further medical attention, and police drove Chasse to Portland Adventist Hospital. He died en route.

When Chasse's body arrived for autopsy, his left chest appeared "flattened," the report said.

The state medical examiner, Dr. Karen Gunson, cited blunt-force chest trauma as his cause of death and wrote that the injuries were caused "by another person or a fall."

Gunson ruled the death an accident, but Chasse's family, witnesses and a police watchdog group have questioned her ruling, and at least one state lawmaker has called for a public inquest into Chasse's death.

"Jim had a difficult life, and its end was horribly, horribly unjust," Mark Chasse said when eulogizing his older brother at a private service on Friday.

The family attorney released the full autopsy report on the first day the Multnomah County district attorney's office presented the case to a grand jury for review. The grand jury is expected to hear more testimony Wednesday and make a ruling on whether anyone is criminally liable in Chasse's death.

District Attorney Michael Schrunk said Tuesday the entire grand jury file would be turned over to Chasse's family upon conclusion of the review. But he cautioned that the grand jury's role is only to decide the narrow question of criminal liability.

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