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What Happened to James Chasse: Jury extends review of Chasse death

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jury extends review of Chasse death

from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein

A Multnomah County grand jury's review of James P. Chasse Jr.'s death in police custody will stretch into next week, prosecutors and police said.

The grand jury already has heard testimony from 29 witnesses over four days, starting Oct. 3.

Multnomah County District Attorney Michael Schrunk has asked Chasse's family attorney whether he wants to suggest any other witnesses to appear before the seven-member jury. To accommodate that, and the schedule of one grand juror, who will be unavailable for several days, authorities do not expect the grand jury to rule until Tuesday at the earliest.

According to police, Chasse's family attorney, Tom Steenson, has asked for one additional witness. Steenson declined comment Tuesday.

Chasse, a 42-year-old mentally ill man who suffered schizophrenia, died in police custody on Sept. 17.

Two Portland police officers and a Multnomah County deputy sheriff who noticed Chasse acting odd, and possibly urinating in the street, approached him, and he ran. They chased him and struggled to arrest him. Witnesses said police tackled Chasse to the ground, forcefully fell on top of him, and then kicked and punched him repeatedly.

Police said one officer pushed Chasse, causing him to stumble to the ground. They said he tried to bite an officer, and they struggled to handcuff him and take him into custody. At one point, an officer used a stun gun against Chasse's torso, police said.

Ambulance and Portland Fire Bureau medics responded to examine Chasse, who witnesses said appeared unconscious.

Medics found Chasse's vital signs normal, and police drove him to jail on accusations of resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Once he was at the jail, nurses said he needed further medical attention. Police drove him to Portland Adventist Hospital, but he died on the way.

An autopsy showed that the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the chest sustained as police were trying to take him into custody, the state medical examiner said.

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer said the Police Bureau has been patiently waiting for the grand jury's conclusion to provide details of its investigation.

"The Police Bureau is disappointed because we have been anxious to share all of the factual information regarding this investigation. However, allowing Mr. Chasse's family to participate in the Grand Jury process is ultimately in the best interest of the entire community," Sizer said in a prepared statement. "The Police Bureau stands ready to openly discuss the entire investigation as soon as the Grand Jury completes its work."

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