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What Happened to James Chasse: Chasse family hires expert witness to testify before grand jury

Monday, October 16, 2006

Chasse family hires expert witness to testify before grand jury

from Portland Tribune

Former state medical examiner to appear Tuesday

The family of James Chasse Jr., the Portland man who died of blunt-force trauma to the chest while in police custody, has hired former Oregon state medical examiner William Brady as an expert witness, family lawyer Tom Steenson said.

Steenson said Brady is expected to be the final witness to testify before the Multnomah County grand jury investigating the death of Chasse, 42, who died Sept. 17. Brady’s testimony is scheduled for about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

A forensic pathologist, Brady was Oregon’s medical examiner from 1969 to 1985 and performs regularly as an expert witness for plaintiffs’ lawyers. Brady also could testify in any civil lawsuit filed by the family against the city.

The grand jury’s role is to determine whether anyone was criminally liable for Chasse’s death. Although several witnesses filed complaints with the city accusing the police of using excessive force, the current medical examiner, Dr. Karen L. Gunson, ruled the death accidental.

Steenson said the family is preparing to make a statement “one way or the other” after the jury members vote and their judgment is made public.

Police said they spotted Chasse acting strangely near the Pearl District restaurant Bluehour the day he died. When police approached – the actions of two Portland cops and one Multnomah County deputy sheriff are central to the case – Chasse ran and was shoved to the ground by the officers. Police contended he bit one officer and tried to bite another while resisting arrest. Police shocked Chasse with a Taser and punched and kicked him in response, witnesses reported to the city’s Independent Police Review Division.

An autopsy report prepared by the state medical examiner’s office was written before the Portland police officers involved were interviewed by homicide detectives, so many of its details are sketchy. But the report said the officers then called for an ambulance and "it was reported the ambulance arrived to find the subject conscious with his vital signs being normal."

Chasse was then taken to jail, where a nurse recommended he be taken to Portland Adventist Hospital for evaluation, the report said, which detectives on the scene apparently believed was for "a mental evaluation."

The Chasse family has said James Chasse Jr. suffered from mental illness, including schizophrenia.

On the way to the hospital, Chasse slumped, lifeless, in the back of the squad car, the report said. The officers transporting him stopped, called for medics and borrowed a defibrillator from a passing jogger, who kept one of the emergency devices at his nearby home.

When American Medical Response personnel arrived, they tried to resuscitate Chasse, but he was eventually transported to Providence Portland Medical Center, where he died. According to the report, AMR medics may not have known a Taser was used on Chasse and were not told he had been in respiratory arrest.

The report noted that medics said that they had left the officers to decide whether to transport Chasse to jail and that they did not know whether the defibrillator had been used.

The death has sparked a community discussion about the care provided to the mentally ill. Chasse’s family said he suffered from a serious mental illness for many years. The police said Chasse was acting strangely and ran when they approached him. Mayor Tom Potter has announced that regardless of the ruling, he will ask the City Council to study how to improve the interactions between the police and mentally ill, including the possibility of opening a day center for mentally ill homeless people.

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