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What Happened to James Chasse: Officer's statements conflict with police account of in-custody death

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Officer's statements conflict with police account of in-custody death

from the Portland Tribune

Citing transcripts, James Chasse Jr.'s family disputes the incident's key details

Portland police officer Christopher Humphreys seemed certain when detectives interviewed him last month, three days after the in-custody death of James Chasse Jr.: When he fell after a foot chase, he landed not on top of the much-smaller Chasse but on the sidewalk.

So if Humphreys did not land on Chasse, and if the falling officer did not cause the punctured lung and the 26 breaks to 16 ribs that caused internal bleeding and killed Chasse less than two hours later, what did?

Portland police said as fact Tuesday that their own investigation concluded that Humphreys fell on Chasse after chasing him Sept. 17 in the Pearl District, causing the injuries.

But a transcript of Humphreys’ interview with Portland police Detective Lynn Courtney, dated Sept. 20, shows that may not be true.

“Um, and I, I actually I remember was just goin’ down I thought boy this is gonna hurt, um on the pavement,” Humphreys said in the transcript, released Wednesday to reporters by a lawyer for Chasse’s family. “And I, I land on the pavement and I kinda rolled and as I rolled I went up on my left side and I wear my uh, I keep a small flashlight in the left rear pocket and it actually jammed against my hip.”

Courtney asked Humphreys to clarify whether he fell on top of Chasse.

“Yeah, I fell on the sidewalk,” Humphreys said. “I went right, right over and past him.”

To read a selection from the transcript quoted above, click the link at the bottom of this story.

A day earlier, at a press conference called in response to a Multnomah County grand jury’s decision not to charge Humphreys or anyone else with a crime in Chasse’s death, police could not have been more clear.

“As Mr. Chasse fell to the ground, he unexpectedly rolled into the path of the officer,” a “fact sheet” issued to reporters reads. “The officer then accidentally fell onto Mr. Chasse and rolled off.”

Chief of Police Rosie Sizer and homicide unit Sgt. George Burke, whose detectives investigated the incident, each offered that statement as well.

In an interview Wednesday afternoon, police bureau spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said Humphreys truly believes he did not fall on Chasse.

“The trouble is, there was no other time that anyone else — including the civilian witnesses — saw anybody fall on or sit on or roll on Mr. Chasse, so there is no other way to see it,” Schmautz said. “But if you were to ask officer Humphreys, he would still say it didn’t happen.”

The dead man’s family is contemplating a lawsuit among other options, their lawyer, Tom Steenson, said Wednesday at a news conference held at the World Trade Center complex in downtown Portland.

Chasse’s brother and father attended and sat with Steenson near the nest of television and radio microphones.

They barely spoke.

“We’re private people,” Mark Chasse, the victim’s brother, said.

Steenson said the grand jury had been “misled” and that the jurors’ decision not to indict anyone denied the Chasse family justice.

He said William Brady, the Oregon state medical examiner from 1969 to 1985 and hired by the family as an expert witness in this case, told the grand jury that the injuries Chasse received were inconsistent with the story behind them.

“We would hope that Chief Sizer and the police bureau would stop releasing false information to the public,” Steenson said.

Sizer and Mayor Tom Potter, at his own press conference Tuesday, apologized to the Chasse family.

Steenson was unimpressed. After leaning over and listening to whispers from Chasse’s father, also named James, Steenson sat forward toward the microphones.

“The apology is a far cry from justice for Jim Chasse,” he said.

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