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What Happened to James Chasse: New witnesses extend review of Chasse case

Thursday, October 5, 2006

New witnesses extend review of Chasse case

from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein
A Multnomah County grand jury's review of a 42-year-old man's death in police custody on Sept. 17 is expected to continue into next week, police and prosecutors said Wednesday.

New witnesses have been identified and other witnesses' schedules require their testimony be heard next week, authorities said.

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer issued a statement Wednesday asking the public to be patient as they await more details in James P. Chasse Jr.'s death.

"I understand the need for people to hear what occurred in this incident and the heightened emotion in the community," Sizer said. The chief said police will provide a detailed account of what occurred once the grand jury review is done.

"I ask that people be patient until we have the opportunity to provide this briefing and begin what I hope will be a broad-based discussion on not only the specifics of this incident, but also the issues that law enforcement and the community face in dealing with people who suffer from a mental illness."

Norm Frink, a Multnomah County chief deputy district attorney, said the grand jury may be completed by the middle or end of next week. "New witnesses have come to the investigators' attention," Frink said. "It's an evolving process."

The state medical examiner ruled that Chasse died of broad-based blunt force trauma to the chest after a struggle with two Portland officers and a Multnomah County deputy sheriff.

An autopsy released by Chasse's family showed he had 26 breaks in 16 ribs plus multiple bruises, contusions and abrasions to his head, chest and abdomen.

Police said officers thought Chasse was urinating in the street in the Pearl District. Chasse ran and the officers chased him.

Police said an officer pushed Chasse, which caused him to stumble to the ground. But three witnesses have filed excessive-force complaints against the officers, saying they forcefully tackled Chasse and then repeatedly kicked and punched him in the chest and head.

After paramedics examined Chasse, police drove him to jail. There, jail nurses found he needed further medical attention, and police drove him in a patrol car to a hospital. He died en route.

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