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What Happened to James Chasse: Officers exonerated in Chasse's death

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Officers exonerated in Chasse's death


A grand jury in Multnomah County has decided not to return criminal charges against three officers involved in a case where a schizophrenic man they took into custody died.

James Chasse, 42, died Sept. 17 while the officers were transporting him to a local hospital. According to the medical examiner's ruling, he died as a result of a broad-based, blunt force trauma to his chest.

Despite the findings, the medical examiner ruled Chasse's death accidental. Chasse's family and witnesses questioned that ruling, which led to a decision to put the case before a grand jury.

In the autopsy report, it stated that Chasse broke 16 ribs, including some that punctured a lung and caused massive internal bleeding. Toxicology tests showed he had no alcohol or drugs in his system.

The grand jury heard from 30 witnesses and also reviewed exhibits, photographs and records, including Chasse's mental health history. They were instructed to decide whether any individual had criminal responsibility in his death.

According to the Multnomah County District Attorney, a public inquest will not be held.

Mayor Tom Potter spoke to the media on Tuesday, saying he wished to apologize to the Chasse family.

"The Chasse family has endured much heartache since James Chasse died and for this, I am truly sorry," he said. "I personally feel the need to apologize when anyone dies in police custody, regardless of the circumstances, and I apologize to the Chasse family."

Potter also promised to do everything in his power to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

"With the grand jury review complete, the Police Bureau will launch an Internal Affairs investigation that goes beyond the scope of a grand jury's investigation, determining whether the officers' actions were within bureau procedures and training standards," he said.

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer spoke Tuesday as well at a separate press conference. She first expressed regret about Chasse's death on behalf of herself and the Portland Police Bureau.

"From all accounts, Mr. Chasse's life held great promise, involved many years of anguish and was extinguished in a way that no family could ever want, and (in a way that) the officers involved neither anticipated or desired," she said. "This incident has clearly left the Chasse family bereft and angry, the officers involved devastated and members of our community concerned."

Sizer then talked about what the Portland Police Bureau is planning to do in the future in light of Chasse's death.

"The Police Bureau is in the process of developing new policy regarding our interactions with emergency medical personnel and is looking at how we can provide crisis intervention training to more of our personnel," she said. "Additionally, the Police Bureau will be working with the Deputy City Auditor in an analysis of use of force incidents that should be addressed, whether through policies, supervision or training."

Sizer also brought up the reaction to comments she made a couple of weeks ago about officers and their dealings with the mentally ill.

"Two weeks ago, I made comments about the burden police officers bear for gaps in the mental health system," she said. "Some have suggested that these remarks were an attempt to shift blame. I assure you that is not the case, but the availability and quality of services to the mentally ill in our community provides an important backdrop to frequency and quality of their contact with police officers."

Sizer went on to outline some of the statistics surrounding arrests where force is used and the percent of time that police use force to take a mentally ill person into custody.

"Portland police officers arrest roughly 38,000 people each year, she said. "In 2005, Portland police officers used force to affect the arrest of subjects 5 percent of the time. PPB officers take roughly 1,000 people into custody a year on civil holds pursuant to psychological assessment at a hospital. In 2005, Portland police officers used force 2 percent of the time while taking people into custody pursuant to a civil hold for a psychological assessment."

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