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What Happened to James Chasse: Update: District Attorney looks limp on death in custody

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Update: District Attorney looks limp on death in custody

from the Portland Mercury

Since originally posting this at 1:30pm, District Attorney Mike Schrunk has responded to suggestions that the stage is set for letting off the officers involved in the Chasse death in custody case, refusing to rule out indictment of the officers involved on criminal charges. Maybe he doesn’t look so limp, after all. This is what he told the Mercury just now:

Christine Mascal has tried death penalty cases and we have a regular assignment of senior deputies qualified to handle the most severe cases. I’ve met Christine on this case numerous times.

If you’re saying describing the incident as a tragedy sets the stage for letting people off, you’re nuts. These things should not happen.

It’s healthy that death in custody cases should go before a grand jury. Does that mean there’ll never be an indictment? No.

Original Post made at 1:30pm:
My prediction (you don’t need to be psychic to work here, but it helps): The cops involved in the death in custody of James Phillip Chasse, Jr. on September 17 are going to escape criminal liability.

District Attorney Mike Schrunk has delegated prosecution of the case to a deputy, Chris Mascal—and while it remains unclear how common it is to delegate high-profile cases in this way, Dan Handelman at Portland’s Copwatch says “it does seem unusual” —as though Schrunk is keen to distance himself from the case’s outcome.

Schrunk is now on record as calling the death “a tragedy”, but as commentators (including Bojack) are pointing out, such language, and now, Schrunk’s delegation, sets the stage for letting off the officers involved, amidst a round of public wailing about a lack of funding for the mentally ill. As Amy reported yesterday, Schrunk’s office is to meet with the Grand Jury today, with 15 witnesses expected to be called and the case expected to close out at the end of the week. Clearing the officers involved in Chasse’s death of criminal liability would still leave room for his family to pursue a civil suit against the officers, should they choose.

Will the officers be found criminally liable for Chasse’s death? Did they kill him? We’ll know, officially, by the end of the week. You can read an email from Schrunk, setting out his position, after the jump.
Thank you for your recent mail. The complete investigation into James Chasse's tragic death will be presented to the Multnomah County Grand Jury. I have spoken with his immediate family's attorney, Tom Steenson, and offered to have him or a representative of his office review the entire investigative file prior to the completion of the grand jury inquiry. I have also invited Mr. Steenson to forward the names of any witnesses or evidence he feels the grand jury should consider. The grand jury will focus on a narrow question: whether any person has criminal liability in Mr. Chasse's death. The answer to this question is not the same as to the one of whether the death was justified or whether anyone is or is not civilly liable in relation to that death. It is also not a decision as to whether appropriate procedures or resources are available for the mentally ill in circumstances such as these. In any event, should you have any further questions or comments please feel free to contact me again.

Very truly yours,

District Attorney

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