October 2, 2006
District Attorney Schrunk:
We are writing to you today to urge you to present an aggressive and thorough case before the grand jury convening tomorrow in the case of the police in-custody death of James Chasse Jr.
By the accounts we have read of this case, Mr. Chasse:
* was unarmed
* was not posing a threat of serious bodily injury or death to police or the public
* suffered from mental illness
* died as a result of his inability to breathe caused in part by blunt force trauma to the chest during the struggle with police
Those same accounts indicate that the police officers involved:
* kicked Mr. Chasse in the head (as noted in the Portland Police directive on deadly force, the use of body parts can constitute the use of deadly force)
* Tasered Mr. Chasse repeatedly (an October, 2005 training memorandum warned against multiple uses of the Taser in part because "Repeated, prolonged and/or continuous exposure on the subject to the TASER electrical discharge may cause strong muscle contractions. These muscle contractions, especially if probes are placed across the chest and diaphragm, may impede breathing and respiration.")
* lay Mr. Chasse on his chest and "hog-tied" him despite his difficulty in breathing
* made the determination to take Mr. Chasse to jail rather than the hospital.
All of the above indicates that even if the officers did not intend to kill Mr. Chasse, they should have known that their actions could cause his death. It seems reasonable that a jury could indict the officers for criminally negligent homicide.
Your office has come under great scrutiny over the past few years in other cases which involved unarmed civilians dying at the hands of the police. To our knowledge there has never been an indictment of an on-duty officer for excessive use of force in Portland. In the last high-profile case, of James Jahar Perez, your office accepted paid testimony from a biased "expert" on police shootings to speak of "action-reaction" theories, which probably swayed the outcome of that case.
Attorney General Hardy Myers, when looking at the issue of deaths in police custody in 2005, recommended that transcripts of grand juries in these cases be released publicly. The Oregon Senate passed a bill to allow that transparency to happen, but the bill never made it to the house floor.
We would like to thank you for apparently agreeing with the Police Assessment Resource Center, which has been studying shootings and deaths in custody by the Portland Police, who recommended that deaths in custody be treated with the same procedures as police shootings. We hope it is never a question whether a death in custody should be presented to a grand jury.
Many members of the public are aware that the District Attorney's office has a very close relationship with the police and is thus reluctant to bring charges. It seems to us that an aggressive and thorough presentation of the facts in this case might lead to an indictment and the end of speculation that your office has a serious conflict of interest when considering police shootings and deaths in custody.
I've mentioned it before, but here's a quick refresher on the unethical manner in which the D.A. handled the officer-involved shooting of James Jahar Perez.