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What Happened to James Chasse: 2006-11-05

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cops need specialized training

Letters to the Editor, from the Portland Tribune

It has come to my attention that the Memphis plan for Crisis Intervention Team training in Portland seeks “well-spoken” mental health consumers who have had recent experience being arrested by local police.

There are very few people around who fit the criteria.

Well-spoken mental health consumers typically have been in recovery or remission for years, their arrest or homeless experiences would then likely have been 15 or more years ago.

Consumers with recent arrest records – mostly for “nuisance” crimes – tend not to be considered well-spoken for many reasons. Some, like James Chasse Jr., may have lost previously exceptional well-spokenness, due to onset of mental illness.

Other people may have lost their benefits due to funding cuts and, thus, are unable or unwilling to connect with available health services.

A few years ago, training the Portland police to work with people who have mental illness was done by those people who live with these disorders – the Consumer Political Awareness and Action Group at the mental health drop-in center at Unity Inc. downtown. I was the facilitator.

Since the Memphis training program limits police training to contact with only “well-spoken” mental health consumers (folks they’re quite unlikely to meet on the streets), I would urge Mayor Tom Potter and Chief Rosie Sizer to require interactive, adjunct training with a representative cross-section of community mental health consumers.

Prior to the training I helped facilitate, many people who received care at Unity Inc. were so frightened of police, they wouldn’t even come to trainings run by those outside the mental health community.

But during the Unity Inc. training, people answered any questions the officers had, and they answered our questions, too.

We were delighted to help train the officers. Police participants seemed very glad to relate to us on an equal basis (perhaps for the first time). It would have been almost fun, had it not been so momentous.

Marian Drake
Northeast Portland

Police get in way of reform efforts

The Oct. 31 article “Force, by numbers” was a good investigative report and a good start at shedding light on the police and their behavior.

In the story, Portland Police Association President Robert King said: “I don’t think any of these numbers mean anything. Even gathering the data in the first place was a mistake because this is just going to be used as a tool to criticize us, and it’s criticism that we don’t need and don’t deserve.”

That succinctly captures the attitude that makes reforming this department so difficult.

It’s clear that the political will is still not there, especially with an ex-chief of police as mayor. But with sufficient exposure, we can turn what is in effect an occupying army into civil servants.

Tom Shillock
Northeast Portland

Files detail Chasse's final days

from The Oregonian, by Maxine Bernstein

When a Project Respond mental health worker and a Portland officer came to check on James P. Chasse Jr. on Sept. 15, Chasse came out of his apartment, spotted the uniformed officer and repeatedly chanted, "Don't hurt me," before he ran out of the building.

Project Respond, an agency of mental health professionals who do crisis response and outreach, had gone to Chasse's Northwest Broadway unit after receiving reports from Chasse's mental health case manager that he wasn't eating, and reportedly was urinating and defecating on his carpet.

When Chasse ran from the building, Officer Jason Worthington asked Project Respond worker Ela Howard if he should chase after Chasse.

Howard said no.

But she advised the officer to flag Chasse, a 42-year-old who suffered from schizophrenia, in the police database as one of their clients and to page her agency for assistance if police encountered him again, according to newly released police reports.

Two days later, when other officers spotted Chasse on the street, nothing was flagged in the Portland Police Bureau's database to call out Project Respond mental health specialists because no system exists to do that, said Sgt. Brian Schmautz, Portland police spokesman.

Police records noted Chasse as possibly mentally ill, yet police say it wouldn't have made a difference because the officers who confronted him Sept. 17 had no idea who he was until after his arrest.

Chasse died in police custody on Sept. 17. Two Portland officers and a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy had struggled to arrest Chasse once they saw him shuffling on a street corner and possibly urinating behind a bush. Police said he ran when they approached. They chased him, knocked him to the ground and struggled to handcuff him.

Chasse died from broad-based blunt-force trauma to the chest, an autopsy found. He suffered 26 breaks to 16 ribs, some of which punctured his left lung. A Multnomah County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing.

On Thursday, seven weeks after Chasse's death, the Police Bureau released more than 1,000 pages of investigative reports stemming from its criminal investigation of Chasse's death.

The reports reveal his mother's and caseworker's concerns about Chasse's mental health in the weeks preceding his death; witnesses' accounts, including a Portland attorney who said Chasse never ran from police; and statements by the Multnomah County jail nurse who said she looked at Chasse through a cell door window for less than 11/2 minutes and thought his five-second seizure could have been faked.

Police declined to release any medical records they obtained on Chasse, but a detective's report summarizes some of their findings. Chasse had a case manager from Cascadia Behavioral Health Care. From the case manager's progress reports between Aug. 17 and Sept. 13, there are indications that Chasse was not taking his medication, had quit bathing and was urinating in the hallways of the Helen Swindells Building where he had a second-floor room.

An Aug. 17 Cascadia progress note said it was likely that Chasse would need hospitalization to help him go back on medication and regain the ability to care for his basic needs, Detective Jon Rhodes wrote in his reports. It also said the caseworker would try to avoid an eviction by continuing assessments.

Chasse had at least two contacts with his mother, Linda Gerber, in August and in mid-September. Gerber told the caseworkers that she was concerned her son wasn't eating and was losing weight and wearing dirty clothing.

Force alarms witnesses

Transcripts of the witnesses' interviews show there were various accounts of how Chasse was knocked to the ground. But several eyewitnesses expressed concern about excessive force right from the start, one even asking to speak to a supervisor at the scene.

Portland lawyer Mark Ginsberg, who was in his car on Northwest 13th Avenue, stopped at the Everett Street intersection, said he saw two officers walk up to a scruffy-looking man who was standing on the sidewalk. Ginsberg didn't think Chasse was urinating. When officers approached him, Chasse took a pivot step, and then the officers tackled him. He said he thought one officer did a "flying tackle," like a football tackle, and landed on top of Chasse as they hit the ground.

"He took maybe one step and then . . . the officers were just on top of him," Ginsberg said in an Oct. 4 interview with detectives.

Alireza Justin Soltani, a computer consultant who lives in the Pearl District, said he was driving east on Everett Street when he saw Chasse. He said Chasse was standing on the south sidewalk, leaning against a parking meter. When police walked up to Chasse, he started screaming as though he was panic-stricken, Soltani said.

"When you saw him, I definitely thought he was mentally challenged because of the way he was yelling," Soltani said.

Soltani saw Officer Christopher Humphreys tackle Chasse. "The officer was half-twisted on him," Soltani said. The police struggled to hold Chasse down.

"The guy was just squirming . . . like a fish out of water, just squirming," Soltani said.

According to Soltani, Humphreys kept tapping Chasse in the forehead with his forefinger or middle finger --something no other witness recounted.

Employee recalls "chaos"

Jamie Marquez, an employee of Bluehour restaurant at the corner, was on the outdoor patio when he saw Chasse knocked to the ground and heard his high-pitched screams, "No!" as officers ordered him to get on his stomach.

Marquez first described it as a football tackle, "like you know a nose guard tackling into the quarterback." He said the officers didn't have Chasse in a bear hug, but just threw Chasse to the ground, and "they went down with him, too."

He said the officers punched Chasse in the face and kicked him in the back of his head. He said it quickly escalated into "complete chaos" and a "state of disarray." He said he thought Chasse stopped breathing.

"The cops kinda kicked his body with their foot to try to get him to move," Marquez said. "He wasn't moving."

Marquez watched police handcuff Chasse and tie his feet behind him to his wrists. Marquez ran into the restaurant and grabbed his cell phone to take photos, which he e-mailed to detectives. He said he heard Chasse scream, "No, don't leave me, don't leave me," once a female paramedic stepped away.

"It just kinda made me ill," Marquez said.

Another witness, Constance Doolan, later complained to detectives because she said an officer at the scene told her that they found crack cocaine on Chasse and that he had 14 prior drug convictions.

There were no drugs in Chasse's system, and he has no prior criminal record.

American Medical Response paramedics who evaluated Chasse at the scene refused to be interviewed by detectives. Their attorney, Jean Ohman Back, told detectives the company was concerned that AMR interview transcripts would be discoverable in any future civil litigation, the police reports say. They told grand jurors that they found Chasse's vital signs to be normal, and policedrove him to jail.

"We're not takin' him"

At the jail, nurse Patricia Gayman said she heard a deputy say, "We don't think he's breathing," over an intercom. She grabbed a pair of gloves and went to the separation cell. The door was closed, and several officers were standing around it. She looked through the cell door window and saw that Chasse was breathing and moving. Then he seemed to have a five-second seizure. "His body stiffened, and then he started to shake," she said. "Before he even stopped that little seizure, I said, 'He's gotta go out, we're not takin' him."

She said she didn't go inside the cell because Chasse had no restraints on, and the door was closed and she assumed he was violent. She said she defers to officers as to whether they think a person is safe to approach and that she has gone into a separation cell "many times" in the past. There was no discussion as to whether Chasse should be taken by ambulance to a hospital.

As police drove Chasse to Portland Adventist Hospital, they noticed he had slumped against the passenger door. They pulled off Interstate 84 at Northeast 33rd Avenue and dragged Chasse from the car. They tried chest compressions and called an ambulance.

Witness Michael Gentry said he saw the medics working on Chasse. They "kept pumping his chest, kept pumping it, and they just kept trying, and we were just like, dude, he's getting whiter and whiter."

Chasse was pronounced dead at Providence Hospital.

Investigative records released in Chasse death

from the Associated Press

Two days before James Chasse died, a mental health worker asked a Portland police officer to put him in the department's data base as a patient and to call her agency if he was found.

Two days later, when officers encountered him on the street in Portland's trendy Pearl district, they had no idea who he was because the police department has no system to prompt a call to a mental health worker, the department's spokesman, Brian Schmautz, said.

The Portland Police Bureau released a thousand pages of investigative records into the death of the 42-old-man with schizophrenia. Chasse died Sept. 17 in a struggle with officers who thought he was urinating in public. A grand jury has found no criminal wrongdoing, and his family has criticized the handling of the case.

The records recount the visit Officer Jason Worthington and mental health worker Ela Howard of Project Respond visited Chasse's apartment, answering to reports that he wasn't eating and was urinating and defecating on his carpet. A detective's report says that medical records suggest that during the autumn, Chasse was not taking his medication and had quit bathing.

Seeing Worthington, in uniform, Chasse fled and chanted, "Don't hurt me," according to the report. The officer asked the mental health worker if he should pursue, the reports say. She said no but asked that Chasse be flagged in the police data base.

A restaurant worker who saw the encounter from a patio said Chasse screamed "No!" as officers ordered him to get on his stomach, the records said.

Jamie Marquez first described it as a football tackle, "like you know a nose guard tackling into the quarterback." He said the officers didn't have Chasse in a bear hug, but threw him to the ground, and "they went down with him, too."

"The cops kinda kicked his body with their foot to try to get him to move," Marquez said. "He wasn't moving."

Chasse was taken to the jail, where he appeared to suffer a seizure, the reports said, and then to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Tarnished Badges: A KATU investigative report

from KATU.com
CLICK THIS LINK TO WATCH VIDEO - opens in pop-up.

How hard is it to fire a cop?

A KATU News investigation has uncovered a chronic problem facing police chiefs and county sheriffs: it's difficult to get rid of problem police officers since there is often no clear line between what can, and cannot, get a police officer fired.

One example is Ron Lister. He's a police officer in the city of Molalla, where he carries a gun and a badge.

But the district attorney in Clackamas County believes Lister lied in at least four of his investigations.

The district attorney's office refuses to hear cases he's involved in. As a result, there's a lot officer Lister can't do.

In the past five months, Lister has not written one traffic ticket, and in the past year and 10 months he has not investigated one felony crime.

Officer Lister is one of three cops in the area who are in a state of law enforcement limbo.

There's also Portland officer Joe Hanousek. He's accused of lying to investigators about police evidence.

In a widely publicized case, Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Christopher Greene is accused of forcing women to undress during traffic stops.

All three are law enforcement officers, but they now work in limited roles because the district attorney won't use them as witnesses.

And taxpayers are paying for them to keep their badges.

Molalla Police Chief Jerry Giger says that as a senior officer, Ron Lister is at the top of the pay scale in the department, pulling down about $50,000 a year. Chief Giger says he thinks it’s a waste of money.

So what do police officers have to do to get fired? It turns out Oregon has a long history of terminating cops who have broken the law. But the line between what gets you fired, and what doesn't, is not clear.

In recent history, there are some officers that have been terminated.

Brandon Tomkins was a King City police officer who was fired after he was accused of sexually abusing a teenager he met online.

David Verbos was fired for robbing pharmacies in a recent well-known case. He faces state and federal felony charges.

Benton County sergeant Jack Burright was fired for lying about his education and training credentials, and Portland officer John Rebman was let go for hiring prostitutes on duty and using his police radio to avoid other officers.

Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto says the bottom line is you have to break the law to lose your badge.

"If the elements of a crime occur, we have a chance of getting rid of them," Giusto said. "But that shouldn't be the standard in this state There are certain things we expect of law enforcement officers, certain reasons we allow them into our homes, certain reasons we give them the authority to arrest, certain reasons we trust our families to them if we have to turn them over to them temporarily or we turn our kids over to them."

The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training certifies officers and is the ultimate authority in terminating bad cops. Without the board's approval, a person can't wear a badge.

The department certifies 11,000 criminal justice professionals in Oregon. This year the agency has closed 302 cases against officers.

In 49 of those cases, the officer lost his or her badge.

However, in 84 percent of the cases, the officer kept their badge.

Five cases illustrate there's no clear line between what gets you fired and what doesn't.

One officer lied to investigators, another officer lies about being sick, one cop is arrested for domestic violence and drunk driving, and another just for drunk driving.

Finally, an officer was disciplined for drug use, drunk driving and weapons violations.

Of those five cases, only two resulted in a loss of certification.

Back in Molalla, Officer Lister has not been convicted of a crime, but the district attorney says he is not a credible witness. Police chief Jerry Giger tried to fire him, but union rules forced his case to go to an arbitrator and he got his job back.

Officer Lister says a police officer's job "isn't just writing tickets. There's a lot of other things that happen other than just write tickets."

Chief Giger says one of highest paid of Molalla's 12 police officers is virtually useless. "We don't have him specifically taking calls or working traffic, so he's just out there performing a patrol function more as a 'be seen by the public' and that's about the extent of how we can utilize him."

Report details Chasse's last days before death in police custody


from the Associated Press

Two days before James Chasse died, a mental health worker asked a Portland police officer to put him in the department's data base as a patient and to call her agency if he was found.

Medics and police check on a man who later died in police custody.

Two days later, when officers encountered him on the street in Portland's trendy Pearl district, they had no idea who he was because he ran away, the department's spokesman, Brian Schmautz, said.

The Portland Police Bureau released a thousand pages of investigative records into the death of the 42-old-man with schizophrenia. Chasse died Sept. 17 in a struggle with officers who thought he was urinating in public. A grand jury has found no criminal wrongdoing, and his family has criticized the handling of the case.

The records recount the visit Officer Jason Worthington and mental health worker Ela Howard of Project Respond visited Chasse's apartment, answering to reports that he wasn't eating and was urinating and defecating on his carpet. A detective's report says that medical records suggest that during the autumn, Chasse was not taking his medication and had quit bathing.

Seeing Worthington, in uniform, Chasse fled and chanted, "Don't hurt me," according to the report. The officer asked the mental health worker if he should pursue, the reports say. She said no but asked that Chasse be flagged in the police data base.

A restaurant worker who saw the encounter from a patio said Chasse screamed "No!" as officers ordered him to get on his stomach, the records said.

Jamie Marquez first described it as a football tackle, "like you know a nose guard tackling into the quarterback." He said the officers didn't have Chasse in a bear hug, but threw him to the ground, and "they went down with him, too."

"The cops kinda kicked his body with their foot to try to get him to move," Marquez said. "He wasn't moving."

Chasse was taken to the jail, where he appeared to suffer a seizure, the reports said, and then to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Defusing crises dispelling myths

from The Oregonian, by Aimee Green

Two years ago deputies responding to a call of a resident disturbing the peace shot and killed the woman after she charged them with a knife. The residents, a Clackamas County mental health worker has advised the deputies, are still a little on edge.

The visit is part of the sheriff's office's third semiannual training devoted to teaching officers how to better handle encounters involving people who are mentally ill, who often don't respond well to traditional police commands and techniques and who might act unpredictably at times of crisis.

The sessions begins.

A woman with ice-blue eyes and bangs pinned back with a sparkly clip asks the deputies why they have to carry guns. Guns, she says, petrify her. She's seen what police do with them on TV.

The police officers assure her they use their guns only in true emergencies --not like the actors on TV.

Another resident wants to know whether police stereotype mentally ill people.

"Do you automatically put us in a box?" she asks.

"Do you think mentally ill people have hotter tempers than other people?" asks another.

And another resident chimes in: "Don't you have a code --1151 or something --to refer to us?"

"It's 1234," answers one of the deputies, adding that the categorization is only used so police can better help the person in mental crisis. "The police officer will hear that and start asking questions: 'How are you doing?' 'What do you need?' "

By the end of the exchange, the room appears to have warmed some. The residents appear a little more relaxed, and the police officers, too.

The training --known as Crisis Intervention Training --was held late last month. It is the third since Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts took office in January 2005 and said his office must better equip deputies to deal with the increasing number of calls about people in mental crisis.

Roberts said he recognized the need a few years ago as a detective when he responded to the call near Oregon 212 in the Boring area. Roberts showed up to find a suicidal man who'd doused himself with two cans of gasoline and was holding a cigarette lighter.

"I thought 'This is absurd,' " said Roberts, realizing he didn't have training to draw upon. Roberts was able to talk the man into surrendering but felt he was grasping for what to say or do.

Jail data show that as many as 28 percent of Clackamas County Jail inmates have a diagnosed mental illness. But officials say the true percentage of inmates who have mental illnesses --diagnosed or not --is probably much higher.

Sgt. Nick Watt, who helped developed the crisis intervention course, estimates that 50 percent of the calls he responds to involve someone with mental health issues a suicidal person, a car thief on mind-altering methamphetamine, or a combative person yelling at anyone who passes by.

The dangers of police encounters with mentally ill people have been highlighted recently by high-profile incidents in the Portland area, including the September death in police custody of James P. Chasse Jr., a man police thought was on drugs or drunk but who actually suffered from schizophrenia.

In Clackamas County, there have been several incidents in which police shot and killed people acting irrationally or exhibiting mental problems --including Clint Carey, a 24-year-old Carver man who in 2005 duct-taped a knife to his hand and then charged at deputies; Fouad Kaady, a 27-year-old Gresham man who was reportedly growling, naked and non-compliant to police commands in 2005; and Joyce Staudenmaier, the Chez Ami resident shot in 2004, who had battled schizophrenia for nearly three decades.

Clackamas County's 40-hour class teaches participants about the gamut of mental illnesses and the drugs used to treat them. Participants hear mental health experts' advice on how police should approach and speak to people with mental disorders. They also act out scenarios they might encounter in the field.

Portland, and in more recent years, Washington and Marion counties, also have crisis intervention training. Portland Mayor Tom Potter recently said he wants every patrol officer on the Portland Police force to go through the city's 40-hour course, which during the past 12 years has been voluntary.

And starting in January, the state's police academy will increase classroom instruction on how to interact with mentally ill people from three hours to 12. Students seeking a basic police officer certification also will undergo eight to 10 hours of scenario-based training.

In Clackamas County, 75 members of law enforcement --including about three dozen sheriff's deputies and three dozen officers from police departments including Lake Oswego, Oregon City, Canby and Sandy --have been through the sheriff's training. Roberts said his goal is to train all 91 of his patrol deputies in the next few years. So far, he's about a third of the way there.

Sharing experiences

After a few days of intensive classroom training, the Clackamas County class breaks into small groups to tour apartments and group homes of people with mental illnesses; Portland Adventist's psychiatric ward, where police often bring people who are threatening to harm themselves or others; and the Hooper detox center in Portland, where police drop off people intoxicated by drugs or alcohol.

The visits give officers opportunities to interact with people with mental illnesses and those who treat them.

A Milwaukie group home manager tells visiting officers that it's a good idea to turn off overhead lights and sirens when responding to incidents at her group home. Lights and sirens can stir bad memories.

A woman who suffers from depression tells officers that she doesn't like handcuffs because they make her feel like a criminal. And a man tells officers that a little bit of leeway goes a long way with him --he still remembers the officer who let him keep his chewing tobacco in his mouth as he was driving to jail.

At the Chez Ami Apartments, resident Susan Funk tells the deputies that she's happy to talk to them about her police encounters because she wants them to see what she's like 80 percent of the year.

"You only know me when I'm freaking out, and that's why I come to these (trainings)," says Funk, 40, who was diagnosed 17 years ago with bipolar disorder.

Funk is clear-headed, witty and pointed in her conversation with deputies. She says if they happen to encounter her on a bad day, they should try to treat her with respect. She doesn't respond well to harsh commands or force.

"Try to be nice to me if you can," she said. "Try not to corner me. Because that would make me feel like I want to fight and struggle."

Funk also shares her take on the small number of police encounters that go bad.

"It's not only a failure of police," Funk says. "It's also a failure of family, the community and the mental health staff who have not been able to intervene."

Not just a police issue

Funk's statements about mental health officials, family and friends stepping in before a person with mental illness reaches a state of crisis ring true with Watt, who helped develop the class. Watt, the Clackamas sergeant who helped develop the program, says that clearly many people who need help aren't getting or seeking the help --and police are the ones called at the last minute when mentally ill people act out in troubling ways.

Officers can't force a mentally ill person to seek treatment unless that person is presenting a safety threat. In those cases, police try to find a hospital placement, but Watt says too often beds at Portland-area hospitals are full. Once, Watt says, the only bed he could find for an emotionally disturbed person was in Roseburg, 175 miles south.

What's more, admittance to a hospital for psychiatric help might only be a short-term fix, because psychiatric staff release the person once the immediate threat has passed. Too often, mental health experts say, people refuse additional treatment.

Police and mental health officials attribute the rise in mental health-related calls to a fundamental change in philosophy about how to treat people. People with severe mental illnesses used to be institutionalized, said Jessica Leitner, program manager for the county's behavioral health division.

But closing Dammasch State Hospital in the mid-1990s signaled a change in that philosophy in Oregon: Mental health experts came to believe that people with mental health issues were best placed in smaller community treatment facilities, group homes or their own homes.

Having more people with mental health issues living in the community, however, makes contacts with local police more likely.

Eric Cederholm, who has been diagnosed with chronic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, was eager to talk to crisis-intervention class participants during their visit to his Milwaukie group home. He wants to offer them support.

While training is good, he said, he wants them to know that they won't always be able to talk a mentally ill person through a crisis.

Cederholm said he was determined to die in June 2005 when he pointed a gun at a Milwaukie Police officer, and the officer shot him in the arm, narrowly missing his chest. He still has the scar.

"I was hell-bent," Cederholm tells the class participants. "Some poor (guy) had to shoot me. I'm sure it ruined his day."

Cop lied to witness about Chasse’s drug-use

from the Portland Mercury, by Matt Davis

A Portland Police Officer told a bystander who witnessed the arrest of James Phillip Chasse on September 17 that Chasse had “14 former convictions for crack cocaine,” and how he and his colleagues “found a vial of crack cocaine on him” that night. This is according to the cops’ investigative report into Chasse’s death, which has just been released.

What one unnamed officer apparently told witness Constance Doolan, is not true—Portland Police Public Information Officer Brian Schmautz says Chasse had no record, and that no crack was found on him on the night of September 17. Nor did he have any drugs in his bloodstream, according to the autopsy.

Many will read this as the officer’s attempt to justify his colleagues’ use of force in arresting Chasse. Unfortunately, the investigating officers do not appear to have asked Ms.Doolan which officer told her this, or for a description of him to try to ascertain who he was. From the investigation’s transcripts, their only response to the accusation was “Um-hm”.

It is rare for officers to be fired for use of force, but officers have been sacked for lying in the past.

“Usually officers don’t get fired for use of force, but for lying, cheating, or stealing,” says Portland Copwatch activist Dan Handelman, “Officers in the past have been fired for being untruthful—an officer lied over whether he backed his car into a phone pole a couple of years ago and got fired for that, I believe. This is just one witness’s statement, but if it happened, then it’s pretty outrageous.”

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Potter's Panel

from the Portland Mercury
On Tuesday, October 31, Mayor Tom Potter convened the first meeting of his Mental Health and Public Safety Panel, which was created in the wake of James Chasse Jr.'s in-police custody death in September. The panel, made up of representatives from the city, county, state, and federal government, plus mental health advocates, is intended to find ways to bolster the safety net for people with mental illness, so they don't end up dead in the back of a police cruiser.

Much of the initial meeting was spent laying the groundwork and identifying other groups that should be included—like Emergency Response Technicians. But the major focus was on convincing the governor and legislature to approve increases in the Department of Human Services' budget for mental health care and facilities.

Independent State Senator Ben Westlund warned that getting more mental health dollars would require a focused, concerted effort.

"This is not a task for the timid," he implored. "This is not a call to action; it's a mandate to act. How hard are you willing to fight?"

The task force will meet again in the next two weeks to develop a game plan.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Union: May the force be with you

from the Portland Tribune

For those who missed it, last Tuesday’s Portland Tribune featured a scoop listing the Portland Police Bureau’s most frequent users of force. Well, this week those officers named in the article will receive $10 Starbucks gift certificates from Robert King, head of the Portland Police Association.

King said that thanks to the recent controversial in-custody death of James Chasse Jr., as well as a report on racial profiling and now the Tribune article, his union members have been victims of a “media frenzy” that unfairly portrays them.

“I want them to keep their chins up and keep taking care of business,” he said. “It’s an honorable profession and the people need us, no matter what they read in the paper or hear politicians say.”
Sheriff keeps his promises

Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto spent last Thursday saying there’s no truth to District Attorney Michael Schrunk’s report accusing him of mismanagement and being too cozy with the employees’ unions he oversees.

But the perception of coziness has dogged him since he ran for the job.

In 2002, Willamette Week recounted a videotape of what he said in a union meeting where he asked corrections deputies for their endorsement. He said, “Let me tell you my priorities: Families, jobs, service to the public — in that order.”
The numbers game

Schrunk’s report accused Giusto of playing games with budget numbers — but is he the only sheriff doing so?

The report blamed Giusto for jail costs of $157 per inmate per day, compared to $89 in Washington County jails. But after the report came out, Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon sent an e-mail to The Oregonian saying his costs actually were “closer to $117 a day” — in other words, Giusto wasn’t doing so bad.

But Schrunk’s top deputy, John Bradley, said the $89 figure was based on a rigorous formula that was validated by Gordon’s top jail manager, who estimated $80 to $90 per day.

It gets weirder: Last year, Gordon released a public report saying his costs were just $57 a day. And in May 2006, Gordon wrote a letter to citizens saying he’d turned down Giusto’s offer to rent beds at $95 a day, because if a jail expansion under consideration goes through, he could house inmates at “less than $30 per day per bed.”

Asked to explain, Gordon told Sources Say his earlier math “could be misinterpreted” and that his office has taken steps to correct it.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Cops need specialized training

Letters to the Editor, from the Portland Tribune

It has come to my attention that the Memphis plan for Crisis Intervention Team training in Portland seeks “well-spoken” mental health consumers who have had recent experience being arrested by local police.

There are very few people around who fit the criteria.

Well-spoken mental health consumers typically have been in recovery or remission for years, their arrest or homeless experiences would then likely have been 15 or more years ago.

Consumers with recent arrest records – mostly for “nuisance” crimes – tend not to be considered well-spoken for many reasons. Some, like James Chasse Jr., may have lost previously exceptional well-spokenness, due to onset of mental illness.

Other people may have lost their benefits due to funding cuts and, thus, are unable or unwilling to connect with available health services.

A few years ago, training the Portland police to work with people who have mental illness was done by those people who live with these disorders – the Consumer Political Awareness and Action Group at the mental health drop-in center at Unity Inc. downtown. I was the facilitator.

Since the Memphis training program limits police training to contact with only “well-spoken” mental health consumers (folks they’re quite unlikely to meet on the streets), I would urge Mayor Tom Potter and Chief Rosie Sizer to require interactive, adjunct training with a representative cross-section of community mental health consumers.

Prior to the training I helped facilitate, many people who received care at Unity Inc. were so frightened of police, they wouldn’t even come to trainings run by those outside the mental health community.

But during the Unity Inc. training, people answered any questions the officers had, and they answered our questions, too.

We were delighted to help train the officers. Police participants seemed very glad to relate to us on an equal basis (perhaps for the first time). It would have been almost fun, had it not been so momentous.

Marian Drake
Northeast Portland

Police get in way of reform efforts

The Oct. 31 article “Force, by numbers” was a good investigative report and a good start at shedding light on the police and their behavior.

In the story, Portland Police Association President Robert King said: “I don’t think any of these numbers mean anything. Even gathering the data in the first place was a mistake because this is just going to be used as a tool to criticize us, and it’s criticism that we don’t need and don’t deserve.”

That succinctly captures the attitude that makes reforming this department so difficult.

It’s clear that the political will is still not there, especially with an ex-chief of police as mayor. But with sufficient exposure, we can turn what is in effect an occupying army into civil servants.

Tom Shillock
Northeast Portland

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Chasse Documents Back Up Police Description of Force

from Willamette Week

Even through a stack of documents released last week revealed further discrepancies between witnesses and Portland police accounts of the fatal Sept. 17 takedown of James Chasse Jr. in the Pearl District, they do back police up on a crucial point.

None of the civilian witnesses describe a higher level of violence than the officers involved themselves described in their statements: several punches and kicks and the application of a Taser (which didn’t seem to have much effect). But it will be up to medical experts in the litigation that will likely stem from the incident to argue whether those blows could have led to the 42-year-old schizophrenic man's death.

The state’s chief medical examiner, Karen Gunson, ruled the broad-based injuries were consistent with an officer falling on top of Chasse. An attorney representing the family is questioning those findings.

“I have seen um police brutality on the news and it wasn’t as, it wasn’t um, I wouldn’t say it was gratuitous,” said Constance Doolan, who saw the incident from across the street. “Um you know, I did feel like the kicking happened in response to the man trying to bite them but having read in the paper today that you know he was acting strange and pissing on the sidewalk, makes me angry that that this is the treatment he received and that he wasn’t, if it, even if it did take that much force to arrest him, and now I’m wondering if there was even a good reason for it.”

Like many of the other witnesses, Doolan questioned the adequacy of the medical evaluation of Chasse.

“I wondered whether he had broken ribs or who knows what after what had transpired,” she said.

The investigator asked her, “What made you think he might have broken—from the kicking?”

“The kicking and landing on the ground, all the struggling, the arms twisted behind the back.”