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What Happened to James Chasse: Reaction to grand jury findings in death of James Chasse

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reaction to grand jury findings in death of James Chasse

from Portland Online, "Mayor Potter's Perspective

The following is a statement I (Tom Potter) released to the media today (10/17) after hearing about the grand jury findings in the death of James Chasse. I would like to hear what you think.

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

The grand jury has spent three weeks looking into the circumstances surrounding the death of James Chasse, and has found that these officers were not criminally negligent. The District Attorney has also determined that no public inquest is necessary.

I am committed to do everything in my power to prevent future in-custody deaths. I know the community wants answers to what happened, how it can be prevented in the future – and I want the same answers.

I want the community to know that there are a number of steps now underway to find those answers.

With the grand jury review complete, the Police Bureau will launch an internal affairs investigation that goes beyond the scope of the grand jury’s investigation, determining whether the officers’ actions were within bureau procedures and training standards.

Chief Rosie Sizer has begun reviewing the Police Bureau’s training policies and procedures in regards to people exhibiting unusual or erratic behavior or certain medical conditions, and how Portland Police respond in those situations. Chief Sizer will include citizens in the review process to ensure community concerns and issues are included in any changes we must make.

The City Auditor’s Office has appointed a group to review and analyze data on all incidents where force was used by a bureau officer, and how these incidents escalated to the point where force was needed. They will be reviewing existing data for the bureau as a whole, and statistics on individual officers. I want to see how their recommendations can provide greater protections for the community, as well as officers.

Tomorrow I am introducing a resolution, co-sponsored with Commissioners Leonard and Saltzman, that will create a Human Relations Commission, an independent body charged with advocating for the rights of all Portlanders, fostering diversity and investigating bias and discrimination anywhere in the city. Answering questions like those raised by this death will be part of the charge of this commission.

I also have spoken with Senators Avel Gordly and Ben Westlund, and with Chair Diane Linn and Chair-elect Ted Wheeler, and we are jointly forming an independent committee to improve how our local justice system and mental health system are working together.

It is not acceptable when anyone in our community who is struggling with mental illness is left to wander Portland streets instead of receiving the help they desperately need, and I don’t believe a jail cell is the right place to help mentally ill people deal with their problems.

My commitment to the Chasse family, to the Police Bureau and to all Portlanders is that we will use this tragedy to improve how our mentally ill are handled by our police, by our jails, by our medical professionals and the mental health community."

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