Thursday, October 19, 2006
Chasse family says police distorted facts
from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein
The family of James P. Chasse Jr. on Wednesday accused the Portland Police Bureau of distorting the facts of the case and blasted the district attorney's office for its "blatant conflict of interest" investigating Portland officers involved in Chasse's death.
The family released transcripts of police interviews with the officers, saying the documents contradict the bureau's version. They pointed to the interview of Officer Christopher Humphreys, who police say fell onto Chasse during a foot chase, causing multiple rib fractures that killed him. But in his interview, Humphreys says he didn't fall onto Chasse at all.
The Chasse family said they were pleased that Mayor Tom Potter apologized to them for Chasse's death, but they remain horrified by how Chasse died in police custody.
"The apology is a far cry from justice for Jim Chasse," said Thomas Steenson, the attorney representing the Chasse family.
Chasse's father, James P. Chasse Sr.; Jim's younger brother, Mark Chasse; and Steenson railed against the police and prosecutors for their handling of Chasse's death investigation, a day after a Multnomah County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing by the three officers involved.
Chasse, 42, who suffered from schizophrenia, died after receiving multiple rib fractures that punctured his left lung after a Sept. 17 encounter with two Portland police officers and a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy.
Police said Tuesday the officers thought Chasse was urinating by a tree in the Pearl District. When they approached, he ran, and they chased him. As they ran down a slight slope on Northwest Everett Street, police say Humphreys pushed Chasse with his left forearm, which is in line with bureau training, but then fell on him.
But Humphreys told detectives he shoved Chasse hard with both forearms to knock him down. When Chasse fell, Humphreys said he fell to the pavement.
"I just went boom, down right on the ground," Humphreys said, according to his interview transcript. "I fell on the sidewalk. I went right, right over and past him."
Humphreys said that he went into a shoulder roll and flipped onto his back, then quickly crawled back to Chasse.
Sgt. Kyle Nice, in his interview with detectives, gave a conflicting account. He said he saw Humphreys tackle Chasse to the ground by wrapping both arms around Chasse, landing on top of him. Nice said Humphreys grabbed Chasse in a "straight bear hug-type tackle," a method that Portland police no longer train officers to use.
Deputy Brad Burton said he saw Humphreys and Chasse go to the ground, but couldn't say if the officer fell on top of Chasse.
Steenson said the Chasse family doesn't believe Chasse died from Humphreys falling on top of him, but from multiple punches and kicks to his body as officers were struggling to turn Chasse onto his stomach and handcuff him.
"It's clear Jim was subjected to unnecessary, brutal force by the police," Steenson said. "The force that was used --the kicking and the striking --was intentional."
In their interviews, two officers say they punched Chasse because he was biting or trying to bite them, and a third said he kicked Chasse after being bit.
The family attorney lambasted Chief Rosie Sizer and the bureau for putting out a fact sheet on how Chasse died, when the officers' own interviews conflict with what the bureau stated as facts. He also questioned why police made no mention of accounts from witnesses, who reported seeing officers repeatedly punching and kicking Chasse in the head and chest.
Portland Police Sgt. Brian Schmautz said it's true that Humphreys does not think he ever fell on top of Chasse, but investigators believe he did based on witness statements and physical evidence. According to police, the state medical examiner found no sign of trauma from punches or kicks that would have caused Chasse's death.
"What investigators try to do is look at all witness statements, all physical evidence and draw conclusions from those," Schmautz said.
Medical Examiner Dr. Karen Gunson's autopsy report said Chasse died from broad-based blunt-force trauma "by another person or a fall."
The Chasse family retained Dr. William Brady, a former state medical examiner who often testifies for the defense. Brady told the family the massive shattering and crushing of Chasse's ribs would had to have been from some type of kicking or striking with tremendous force, Steenson said. There was no damage to Chasse's sternum, which Brady believed would have occurred from someone falling on top of him.
The family criticized what they viewed as law enforcement's lackadaisical, uncaring attitude toward Chasse, pointing out the well-publicized photograph a witness took of Chasse lying in the street surrounded by police officers, fire and ambulance medics standing around him.
Even when taken to jail, where Chasse suffered two seizures and Humphreys thought Chasse had stopped breathing, Chasse received no medical attention. A jail nurse looked into the cell door window, noticed him "twitching" and said little more than "we can't take him," and just walked off, according to Humphrey's interview transcript.
"We remain horrified by the callous and completely indifferent ways police and law enforcement treated James," his father said. "They treated my son as though he didn't count as a human being."
District attorney criticized
Sizer has said that she hopes to draft new policy regarding how information is shared between police and emergency medical staff and jail personnel. The officers' interviews do not indicate that they shared with ambulance medics at the scene the extent of their struggle with Chasse, and how he was knocked to the ground.
Police have said medics found Chasse's vital signs normal and cleared him to go to jail. But Nice, in interviews with detectives, said ambulance medics did ask him, "Do you want him transported?" Nice said he replied, "No, we have criminal charges. He'll be going to jail."
Chasse faced charges of resisting arrest, assault on an officer and interfering with police.
Mark Chasse criticized the district attorney's office for failing to hold these officers accountable.
"If the DA's office could not get an indictment against these officers for their brutalization and torture of James, it's hard to imagine when they ever might," he said.
Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk defended his office's ability to investigate police, and said that the county, unlike other jurisdictions, takes most every death in police custody to a grand jury for review.
"I don't think we have a conflict," he said. "We've prosecuted policemen before."
The grand jury that heard Chasse's case was presented with the definitions of four potential criminal charges, including murder, manslaughter 1 and 2, and criminal negligent homicide.
Chasse's family thanked those who have offered their condolences and invited the community to a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Oct. 27 at the First Congregational Church in Portland, 1126 S.W. Park Ave.
They said they are private people, and it's been very difficult speaking out, but they feel they must for Jim's sake.
"This is necessary for us to do this" said Mark Chasse, "because we love Jim."