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What Happened to James Chasse: Portland Police Bureau releases witness statements in Chasse case

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Portland Police Bureau releases witness statements in Chasse case

One Pearl District resident describes what he saw

from the Portland Tribune, by Jacob Quinn Sanders

The Portland Police Bureau on Friday released its records on the controversial in-custody death of James Chasse Jr. on Sept. 17.

Among the hundreds of pages of records are interviews with civilian witnesses – transcribed verbatim – that illustrate what the events across from the Pearl District restaurant Bluehour looked like to those without police training and experience.

Though the Chasse family obtained investigators’ interviews with the officers involved in the incident that led to Chasse’s death, and though they released them to reporters Oct. 18, the day after a Multnomah County grand jury cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing, this is the first time the statements of other witnesses has been made public.

These are excerpts from one of four transcribed civilian witness interviews conducted by Portland police detectives between Sept. 24 and Oct. 4. To read the entire interview, click the link at the bottom of this story.

Justin Soltani, 34, a computer consultant, lives in the Pearl. Portland police Detective Jon Rhodes interviewed him Sept. 24 over the phone.

When Soltani first saw Chasse, Soltani was in his car. Chasse stood upright, apparently looking for change in a parking meter. Portland police officer Christopher Humphreys and Multnomah County deputy sheriff Brad Burton pulled over hard in front of Soltani on Northwest Everett Street between 13th and 14th avenues, near the restaurant Bluehour. Humphreys wore a police bureau baseball cap.

The cops walk toward Chasse, telling him to stand still. Chasse started walking away.

SOLTANI: And they yelled stop and initially, I mean initially I thought he was mentally retarded.

RHODES: Um-hm.

SOLTANI: Cause he was just walking and screaming. Um, he just started screaming and started running down towards the Blue Hour, between 13th and 14th, between 14th and 13th. …

RHODES: So, so the guy starts to, uh, he’s, is he running away from them did you say or is he walking away from them at that point.

SOLTANI: He, he wasn’t, he, he couldn’t run.

RHODES: Um-hm.

SOLTANI: I mean, when you saw him, I definitely thought he was mentally retarded because of the way he was yelling.

RHODES: What was he …

SOLTANI: The screams.

RHODES: Could you tell what he was yelling and screaming?

SOLTANI: Well he was just kind of like, ewrrrrrr.

RHODES: Yeah. Okay.

SOLTANI: Uh, yeah, probably something like a Wookie, uh.

Chasse starts running, and the officers chase him. Another police car whizzes by, pulling in front of Bluehour at a 45-degree angle.

SOLTANI: And it stopped there and then two officers chase him down and the guy with the hat on, just tackled him down.

RHODES: Okay.

SOLTANI: And then another, then the Multnomah County, the guy, the sheriff in the green showed up and then …

RHODES: Um-hm.

SOLTANI: There was a sergeant also.

Later, that sergeant would be identified as Kyle Nice.

Rhodes asked Soltani how Humphreys brought Chasse down, whether Chasse fell or whether Humphreys forced him to the ground.

RHODES: Okay, so um, you see the officer, you see the guy fall to the ground and did this, could you see whether or not the officer that was chasing him fell on him as well or could you see that part?

SOLTANI: Yes he, when he went down on him, when he went down on him …

RHODES: … Um-hm …

SOLTANI: He pretty much, the guy was done and he was, the officer was half-twisted on him.

RHODES: Okay.

SOLTANI: And he was trying to hold him down and then the other officers, um, joined in.

RHODES: Okay.

SOLTANI: Trying to, to restrain him. …

Chasse fought and squirmed, screaming the whole time, as Soltani went to park his car. He heard officers yelling for Chasse to stop moving.

Soltani said he never saw Burton use his Taser, though Burton did, and he also never saw Chasse bite Nice and try to bite Humphreys, which other witnesses did.

When Soltani walked back to the scene, Chasse still wrestled with officers but was in handcuffs.

He saw Humphreys walk up to Chasse several times, still charged from the struggle. …

SOLTANI: The officer with the hat kept walking away from him, kept coming closer and he was, he was with his fore-fingers, fore and middle fingers kept poking the guy in the head. The (officer) just kept poking him in the head, just tapping him on the head. …

RHODES: Like he’s what, trying to, could you tell what he was saying while he was doing that?

SOLTANI: He was saying something but I couldn’t hear …

RHODES: Okay.

SOLTANI: And he just kept tapping him on the forehead and that’s what got me a little upset.

RHODES: Tapping him?

SOLTANI: Yes, because, it, it, it was just no reason for it.

RHODES: Okay, was he like, did it seem like he was trying to get his attention or was he?

SOLTANI: I think he was, I mean it was just, to me, it, it was just like an adrenaline rush and he just couldn’t get off of.

RHODES: Right.

SOLTANI: And he kept walking back away from the suspect, kept coming back to him and he kept tapping him on the head.

RHODES: Uh-huh

SOLTANI: And another officer showed up and he came over and put his foot on the guys leg and he just stood there. And then just a couple, and then the guy was still screaming …

RHODES: … Okay, still screaming, okay.

SOLTANI: Yeah, and then an officer came in front of me and I couldn’t see anymore, but just something happened and the guy just, just stopped moving.

RHODES: Okay.

SOLTANI: He just, I mean he just, just stopped.

RHODES: Could you tell what was going on when he all of a sudden just stopped screaming and stopped moving?

SOLTANI: No, I, I, I thought he was dead.

Nice called for emergency medical personnel, then stepped back, near where Soltani stood. The sergeant asked Soltani whether he was concerned about what he witnessed.

SOLTANI: and I said yes, and he goes well would you like to discuss it now? I said I‘d rather wait for you to finish and I can call you.

Nice was out of business cards, but wrote his name and number of a piece of police-notebook paper and asked Soltani to call the next day.

Soltani did not.

RHODES: Well, this is just as good, actually probably better ‘cause um, you know it’s be, since he was involved it’s much better that you actually um, talk to us. …

Soltani saw paramedics check Chasse’s blood-pressure, shine a flashlight in his eyes. Then he saw a paramedic give the “all clear that he was fine.”

SOLTANI: And they just, just left, walked away from him …

RHODES: … Okay …

SOLTANI: And the guy was still just lying there not moving. …

RHODES: … Is he saying anything at that point?

SOLTANI: No, he was just, he was silent …

SOLTANI: And then um, my um, reaction then I turned to Sergeant Nice and said it sounds like a busy day …

RHODES: (laughs) yeah.

SOLTANI: And so he goes oh he’s not dead. And I said no I meant are you having a busy day ‘cause you know for a Sunday I don’t know what’s going on. You shouldn’t be here, be out in church or having a vac … it, it’s been busy. … And, and the entire Blue Hour was sitting there drinking and watching.

Related documents
Transcript of interview with Pearl District resident Justin Soltani (PDF document - 6.3MB, 31 pages )
Transcript of taped interview with Portland police officer Christopher Humphreys, p. 12 (emphasis belongs to Chasse family attorney Tom Steenson)
Transcript of taped interview with Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Deputy Brad Burton, p. 39
Transcript of taped interview with Portland police officer Kyle Nice, p. 19
Transcript of taped interview with Portland police officer Kyle Nice, p. 20

Police fact sheet on the incident
Police presentation describing the timeline of the incident
District Attorney's letter describing the grand jury decision
Portland Police Bureau Chief Rosie Sizer's statement about the grand jury decision
Police review process

Related stories:
When cops use force, Oct. 31
As Chasse controversy deepens, cops have yet to release key documents, Oct. 19

Officer's statements conflict with police account of in-custody death, Oct. 18
Grand jury exonerates officers in Chasse death, Oct. 17
Chasse family hires expert witness to testify before grand jury, Oct. 16, 2006
Chasse grand jury decision expected soon, Oct 15, 2006

Chasse grand jury still out, Oct 10, 2006
Potter plans Chasse death follow-up committee, Oct 9, 2006

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