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What Happened to James Chasse: 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Brett Burton involved - Woman sues for false arrest, battery

Use of force - The suit is the third filed since last week involving Portland police

From The Oregonian

A 45-year-old mother of eight whose arm was broken when a police officer and a sheriff's deputy put her in a control hold is suing the city of Portland and Multnomah County for false arrest and battery.

According to the suit filed this week in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Lyudmila Trivol arrived home at her Southeast Portland condo on May 27, 2006, to find a tow truck hooked up to the family minivan. The minivan was parked in its proper spot, but its wheels were intruding a half-foot into the condominium association's bark dust. Trivol's husband had already been arguing with the tow-truck driver and had sliced the truck's tire with a knife.

Two Portland police officers and two Multnomah County sheriff's deputies responded. Trivol -- a Ukrainian immigrant who already felt targeted by what the suit describes as repeated, xenophobic harassment by the Cherry Park Condominium Association -- was furious, concedes Gregory Kafoury, Trivol's attorney.

Kafoury said Officer James Botaitis and Deputy Brett Burton had no justification for putting Trivol in a control hold.

"She had not assaulted anyone; she was an upset lady," Kafoury said.

Burton was one of the officers who wrestled to subdue James Chasse Jr., who had schizophrenia, shortly before the mentally ill man died in September 2006.

Trivol was charged in circuit court with resisting arrest, harassment, disorderly conduct and assaulting a public safety officer for kicking Burton in the shin as he lifted her from the ground. Prosecutors, however, dropped the charges in December 2006.

The Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office do not comment on pending litigation.

The suit seeks $221,000 from the city and the county and $700,000 from the condo association and the association's president.

The suit is the third claiming false arrest and excessive force filed against Portland police since last week.

The City Council on Wednesday is scheduled to approve a $150,000 payment to settle a federal lawsuit against a Portland officer accused of using excessive force against a woman after she swore at him following a traffic stop.

Barbara Weich, formerly of Portland, filed the lawsuit March 23 in U.S. District Court against Officer Gregory Adrian and the city of Portland, also accusing him of malicious prosecution and battery. She suffered a head injury and a broken left arm, according to her lawyer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pre-Trial Hearings in the Cop-Related Death of James Chasse Jr.

The Chasse Files

from the Portland Mercury

It is arguably Portland's most controversial cop lawsuit ever. And even though it will be almost two years before a jury is scheduled to sit down and rule on the case, the pre-trial hearings are already heated, with both sides accusing the other of trying to prejudice a fair trial.

Civil rights attorney Tom Steenson, who is representing the family of James Philip Chasse Jr., won a record half-million dollar settlement against the city in a officer-involved lawsuit last Thursday, November 8, but appears to be pursuing this case with more than just a financial settlement in mind. The Chasse family, along with Steenson, all want sweeping changes in the way the police bureau operates.

James Chasse's father, James Sr., and his brother, Mark—both of whom bear a striking resemblance to photos of James Jr.—have sat patiently behind Steenson on the hardwood courtroom benches on the ninth floor of the Federal Justice Center downtown since the pre-trial hearings began in earnest earlier this year. Mark's jaw occasionally tightens listening to city attorneys make their arguments before Judge Dennis J. Hubel. His father's solid stoicism is unnerving, and both men bring a palpable pressure to the room.


The details of Chasse's death were shocking. Chasse, a 145-pound, 42-year-old schizophrenic, was spotted by police in the Pearl District urinating in the street on September 17, 2006. After a scuffle with police, Chasse died in a squad car being driven by these same officers.

The squad car was en route to Portland Adventist Hospital, 8.4 miles from the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) on SW 3rd—not the Good Samaritan Hospital, 2.6 miles away from the jail, or the emergency room at OHSU, 2.1 miles from the jail.

It remains unclear why Chasse was confined to a holding cell for 23 minutes, and what happened there before a jail nurse looked through the window and noticed he was unconscious. Chasse had been medically cleared at the scene of his arrest earlier on NW 13th and Everett by a team of paramedics. However, an autopsy found extensive evidence of external and internal injuries when Chasse died—including 16 broken ribs, and abrasions and bruising all over his body.

Since his death, several people have come forward to file tort claims and lawsuits alleging they have been beaten by sheriff's deputies—and, occasionally, cops too—in holding cells and the booking area at MCDC, where James was held for 31 minutes before dying on his attempted transport to the Adventist Hospital ["Jail Guards Run Wild!" News, Sept 13]. The alleged beating of 40-year-old Michael Evans in the lobby of the jail was captured on video just six days before Chasse's time there, on September 11, 2006 ["Summary Injustice," News, July 19].

One of the officers involved in Chasse's death, Christopher Humphreys, was found to be the police bureau's second-highest user of force in statistics released last November. Humphreys also has "a history or pattern of falsifying police reports," according to attorney Steenson ["Death in the Public Interest," News, Oct 18], who says his office has evidence to support this allegation. Humphreys had been the subject of seven Internal Affairs Division complaints when the numbers were released, and has subsequently become the subject of another unrelated lawsuit. He still patrols for the police bureau.


Legally speaking, Steenson's pursuit of this case against the city is broader than in previous lawsuits he has filed, because this time he's asked for more documents. Fittingly enough, these documents have become a huge source of contention between the two parties.

"The plaintiffs are asking for all the underlying documents for things that happened years ago in the police department," said Deputy City Attorney Jim Rice in court last Wednesday, November 7. "Tracking this down takes an inordinate amount of time."

Indeed, Steenson is not only asking for documents directly associated with Chasse's death—which include officer disciplinary records and a copy of the police bureau's (still incomplete) internal affairs investigation into the incident—but police files on officer-involved deaths dating back to the 1980s, copies of external reports on those deaths along with the supporting documentation gathered to produce those reports, not to mention reams of training documents and other supporting information.

At issue for Steenson and the Chasse family is that the police bureau could not only have prevented Chasse's death, but the bureau's lack of adequate training and disciplinary procedure directly contributed to his demise. They want to prove that the City of Portland has Chasse's blood on its hands.

The Chasse family gave the police bureau a two-page list of things it wants to see changed after filing the lawsuit on February 14 this year, including: Implementing a more effective early warning system to better deal with officers using high rates of force, and making the city's so-called Independent Police Review truly independent by having investigations conducted by independent attorneys, rather than internal affairs detectives. ("It's kind of like leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse," said Steenson.)

Further recommendations are: Changing the bureau's written policy on mental illness to include an anti-discrimination clause; changing the bureau's foot pursuit policy to prohibit taking innocent citizens to the ground unless officers have probable cause to believe the suspect is highly dangerous; changing the bureau's policy on officers using hands and feet to make impact strikes to a person's vital areas; and raising the burden of proof on an officer using deadly force from a "reasonable belief" that a suspect is dangerous, to "probable cause" that they pose an imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury.

So far, the police bureau and the city have implemented none of those changes. However officers are now required to obtain paramedics' permission to take someone in Chasse's situation to a hospital from MCDC, as well as inform paramedics on how much force was used.

In October 2006, Mayor Tom Potter mandated 40 hours of widely touted crisis intervention training for all officers, 25 percent of whom are now trained, but an urgently needed 16-bed crisis triage center—somewhere for officers to take mentally ill people in crisis—appears to be slipping further down the county's list of funding priorities with each passing month ["Less Than a Crisis?" News, Nov 1].


Steenson has been frustrated by the city's failure, so far, to produce any of the documents he's asked for—despite Judge Hubel's order on October 16 for the city to complete discovery by three weeks ago, on Friday, October 26.

"I've seriously considered filing a motion for contempt," said Steenson in court last Wednesday, November 7, protesting against the city's failure to comply with the judge's order.

"We're not trying to slough it off," replied Deputy City Attorney Rice. "It's just a lot of information."

Rice said he now thinks the city might be able to produce the documents to Steenson by the end of November, beginning on November 16. Despite having only one other attorney, David Landrum, and one paralegal supervisor, Cheryl Noll, working on the case, Rice argued the city is doing its best to comply with Steenson's request for production of the documents.

"The increased complexity of litigation requires enormous efforts," Rice said. "We don't have another place for a paralegal physically in the building—we have taken closets and put lawyers in them."

Steenson responded by saying, with respect, that he had "no reason to believe what they are saying to the court."


The longer the city waits to produce necessary documents in this case, the less time experts retained by Steenson have to review those documents before the pre-trial moves to its next stage, depositions, in January.

The city, too, has raised questions about whether it is possible to try this case fairly, arguing newspaper journalists and TV reporters are prejudicing the public's viewpoint. In the past, when the city has been involved in, or settled, cop lawsuits, it has always bought silence from the victims' families with a so-called "protective order," preventing public release of sensitive documents both during and after the trial.

Chief Rosie Sizer and Mayor Potter have spoken often about wanting the police bureau to be more transparent ["Chief Concerns," Feature, Jan 18] but such protective orders make it impossible for the public to have a thorough, evidence-based discussion about what might be wrong with the Portland Police Bureau.

That's why a conglomerate of local media including the Portland Tribune, the Oregonian, and all of the city's TV stations hired attorney firm Davis Wright Tremaine to intervene as a third party in the case on October 10—arguing that a protective order should not cover the city's production of documents in this case.

The city objected to the intervention on the grounds of officer safety—delivering an affidavit from Officer Humphreys saying he has been stalked in the past by an "armed individual." But in a counter-argument, Steenson said in writing on November 2 that "the potential consequences of shielding these documents from the public eye should not be underestimated, particularly where one of those consequences could be the more unnecessary and tragic deaths of innocent citizens."

"I think something that hasn't been spoken to is the issue of citizen safety," Steenson said, arguing in court this past Tuesday, November 13. "The public airing of Chasse's death and some of its follow-up has had a profound effect on some people in the city."

Regardless of its outcome, the public will most likely maintain a high level of interest in the outcome of the Chasse case—which will have far reaching consequences for Portland and the way it is policed.

The case continues.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mayor Responds to Questions on Chasse Case

from the Portland Mercury

Emergency Response - Mayor Responds to Questions on Chasse Case

Mayor Tom Potter responded in writing on Monday, November 5, to a list of 28 "unanswered questions" given to his communications director outside city hall on the one-year anniversary of the death of James Philip Chasse Jr. two months ago.

The questions, collated by the Mental Health Association of Portland (MHA) and delivered on September 17, were broad in their scope—ranging from asking what recommendations have been implemented by the mayor's mental health initiative since it started work in January, to how Portlanders can explain Chasse's death to their children.

Potter began his four-page response by declining to discuss the actions of individual officers or parties to the lawsuit filed by Chasse's family, which is still ongoing. Then he listed 11 "important actions" resulting from his mental health initiative.

Those include $290,000 of extra funding for Cascadia's Project Respond, to create a dedicated unit to work with cops on calls involving mental illness; mandatory crisis intervention training for all cops coordinated by a mental health professional—Potter said around 25 percent of officers have now completed the training; and the expansion of a Voluntary Substance Abuse Treatment program to help those with dual diagnosis into long-term housing and treatment.

"When you ask who is responsible and how do we hold them accountable, I look at society as being responsible for not funding proper mental health services," Potter wrote. "And instead, leaving it to police officers to respond."

"We're pretty happy with the letter," says Jason Renaud of MHA, who thinks Potter is taking his organization's concerns seriously. "I'm glad he took the time to write it and list the city's accomplishments, and that he didn't blow us off."

Nevertheless, Potter's letter included five measures beyond his jurisdiction—instead, they're up to the cash-strapped folks at Multnomah County. They include mental health screening for people being booked into jail, expansion of the so-called "Treatment Not Punishment" program, a court advocate program for those with mental illness, and most controversially, the establishment of a crisis triage center with 16 beds.

Last week, the Mercury reported that Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler appears to be letting the crisis triage center slip down his list of funding priorities ["Less Than a Crisis?" News, Nov 1]. While Wheeler denies this is the case, he told the Mercury he may not be able to secure funding for it until 2010, or November 2008 at the very earliest.

As a result, the MHA wrote to Wheeler last Thursday, November 1, asking him to speak at a public meeting about mental illness, in a question-and-answer format, to address some unanswered questions of his own. Wheeler has yet to respond and could not be reached by the Mercury for comment by press time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

City mired in a paper chase

From the Portland Tribune

A federal judge is wondering why the Portland city attorney’s office has not complied with a court order he issued last month demanding that the city turn over reams of requested documents to lawyers for the family of James Chasse Jr.

Chasse’s death in 2006 after an altercation with police sparked the biggest cop-shop controversy of the year.

Oregon District Judge Dennis Hubel has called a hearing for 10 a.m. Wednesday to hear the city’s explanations, spurred by a letter from civil rights lawyer Tom Steenson.

Steenson on Friday morning told Sources Say he felt obligated to inform the judge that he had not received a single document by the Oct. 26 deadline set by Hubel.

On Friday afternoon, however, Deputy City Attorney Jim Rice said the city has partially complied with the order. He said the logistics of assembling and copying the thousands of documents overwhelmed his office’s already swamped support staff.

“They’re working hard on it,” he said.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Less Than a Crisis?

from the Portland Mercury

County Goes Limp on Mental Health Triage Center

A mental health triage center prioritized by Mayor Tom Potter's Mental Health/Public Safety Initiative work group in January now looks like it's slipping lower on Multnomah County's list of funding priorities—leaving Portland's cops with no option but to transport people in mental health crisis to jail.

Portland has been missing a crisis center since 2001, when the Crisis Triage Center and BHC-Pacific Gateway hospital in Sellwood were de-funded following the police shooting of Jose Mejia Poot at BHC. State investigators said Poot's shooting could not "be said to be totally unexpected," given the poor conditions at both centers.

After James Philip Chasse Jr.'s death last year—which also occurred in police hands—and the Mental Health Initiative recommendations that followed, County Chair Ted Wheeler has been trying to secure funding for a new center. He went with Potter to Salem to ask for $1.6 million in the last legislative session, but was turned down ["Mental Wealth," News, Feb 8].

On October 4, Wheeler's fellow County Commissioner Lisa Naito proposed diverting $4 million of the county's business income tax funding from Gresham to fund a triage center, arguing Gresham no longer needed the county's subsidy.

"The county can no longer afford [to give the money to Gresham]," Naito argued. "We have hacked health and mental health care services for thousands of people... we shut down the Crisis Triage Center that so many in our community depended upon."

Nevertheless, Wheeler and Commissioners Jeff Cogen and Lonnie Roberts voted against Naito's plans. Now, Wheeler says he plans to seek more funding for the center in November 2008.

"November 2008 means it's not a top priority," says Jason Renaud at the Mental Health Association, a member of the initiative's work group.

"You have to be creative in getting funding for things like this," says John Holmes, executive director of the Multnomah County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and another member of the work group. "I don't know what Ted's reasons were for voting against Lisa's plan, but it makes me feel like there's not much of a commitment there. People like James Chasse needed this center."

"It's not slipping down my list of priorities," Wheeler told the Mercury on Tuesday, October 30. "But I am asking for patience in getting it done. I understand and have compassion for those affected, but the bottom line is, I can't just print money here at Multnomah County."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Death in the Public Interest

from Portland Mercury

Media Wants You to See Chasse Files

A federal judge finally ordered the City of Portland last week to turn over crucial documents regarding James Philip Chasse Jr.—the schizophrenic man beaten and killed by Portland police last September—but added one condition: The attorney for Chasse's family cannot release any of the information in the documents to the public.

That's not good enough, says a conglomerate of local media including the Portland Tribune, the Oregonian, and all of the city's TV stations, which hired attorney firm Davis Wright Tremaine to intervene as a third party in the case last week. The interveners say the information is in the public interest and should be released not just to Tom Steenson, the Chasse family's attorney, but also to the public at large.

Protective orders, such as the one keeping the Chasse documents out of the public eye, are often imposed on information about police officers involved in controversial in-custody deaths like Chasse's. The city agrees to release information to the victim's attorneys about the officers, like their disciplinary and phone records, but copies of the documents are made on pink paper to signify their confidentiality between the parties involved in the lawsuit.

If the case is settled financially between those parties before it goes to trial, as often happens with in-custody deaths, then the most controversial documents never get a public airing. The officers can continue working for the police bureau without journalists or the public being able to ask tough, evidence-based questions about their fitness for the job.

The stakes over the Chasse case's protective order are high, and a fight between the city and Steenson over whether to impose one has delayed "discovery," or handing over, of many documents in the lawsuit so far.

Among the most controversial documents Steenson asked for last week was a copy of the cops' Internal Affairs Division (IAD) investigation into what happened. Over a year since Chasse's death, that investigation is still incomplete.

Steenson also asked for police training documents and standard operating procedures relating to use of force in encounters like Chasse's. The city attorney's office says it has tried to get those documents from the police bureau's training division, but for some reason the division has withheld them.

Furthermore, Steenson wants copies of all 2,400 police reports written by Officer Christopher Humphreys during his eight-year career at the police bureau. Humphreys has the bureau's second-highest use-of-force rate according to statistics released last November, and Steenson argued that his office has evidence that Humphreys has a "history or pattern of falsifying police reports," and wants further information to prove it.

Humphreys had been the subject of seven IAD complaints when the numbers were released. Since the Chasse incident, Humphreys has been accused (along with three other officers) of beating another man, Charles Manigo, during an arrest at the Rose Quarter TriMet stop in May 2006. Manigo is seeking $135,000 in damages in that lawsuit, filed on August 21 of this year.

"There won't be a written policy saying, 'We're not going to discipline officers based on what they do,'" Steenson said in his opening arguments on Thursday, October 11. "But I believe there will be evidence [in these documents] that the city does not take the steps necessary to discipline or terminate officers in cases like these.

"The word on the street [is] if you're a police officer," Steenson added, "you can essentially act with impunity."

Judge Dennis J. Hubel struck a compromise: He ordered the city to produce some of the documents Steenson is asking for—including the incomplete internal affairs investigation, training documents, and Officer Humphreys' arrest reports—but only the ones leading to legal claims against the city.

Hubel also scheduled a separate hearing for Tuesday, November 13, to hear the media's arguments over the protective order and to decide whether it should still stand, and if so, precisely which documents it should include. Nevertheless, Steenson and Deputy City Attorney James Rice took the opportunity last week to argue about the protective order.

"[The information] relates to the operation of the Portland Police Bureau," Steenson said. "And I believe that... historically, lawyers have not been as conscious about the public's right to look at things as perhaps we should have over the years.

"The public interest here is probably off the chart," Steenson continued. "I don't think that the generalized concerns the defendants have [about the protective order]... are enough to outweigh citizens' concerns in this case."

Rice countered by arguing that releasing the information to the public would threaten the officers involved.

"The threat of harm to officers in this case is not theoretical," he said.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Man Claims Cops Retaliated Over Free Speech

from the Portland Mercury

Reader: Are you sensing a pattern, here? As I mentioned earlier, three people filed lawsuits today against the Portland Police Bureau, and one person has filed a tort claim. Here’s the second of the quartet:

Richard Prentice filed a tort claim today, laying the ground to file a full-blown lawsuit. Prentice is the man arrested and intimidated in a holding cell in June for putting up anti-cop posters downtown (“Thought Police,” News, June 28). Prentice wants an apology from the officers involved, and unspecified financial compensation for the violation of his constitutional rights.

VIOLATION OF HIS RIGHTS: Richard Prentice (left) with girlfriend, Susannah Thiel (center) outside the Gus Solomon courthouse this afternoon…

Prentice’s posters featured the three officers implicated in the death last September of James Chasse—a schizophrenic beaten to death for taking a leak in the Pearl District. Prentice was arrested and intimidated in a holding cell by two of those officers, one of whom, Kyle Nice, later emailed the Mercury essentially confessing to having intimidated Prentice for calling him a “murderer” in his posters.

Prentice’s posters were used last week by the City Attorney as a reason to keep certain information about the officers involved in Chasse’s death a secret from the press: “We have the info that there’s an element in the community that goes around putting up posters of heavy-caliber Smith & Wesson pistols pointing at police,” said Deputy City Attorney James Rice—even though in fact, Prentice did not put up such a poster, thinking better of it. Nice had to fish through his bag back at Central Precinct in order to pull it out, before scanning it and emailing us a copy.

The only poster Prentice actually put up looked like this.

Asked whether he expects the officers involved to apologize for the way he was treated, Prentice says: “It would be a first in the history of the Police Bureau.”

Four claim Portland police use 'dirty tactics'

from The Oregonian

Rights cases - Plaintiffs' attorneys want independent investigations

Four men who say Portland police ran roughshod over their constitutional rights are taking their cases to court.

At a news conference Monday, their attorneys called for independent investigators to review complaints against police, and for the mayor and chief to curb what they called officers' "dirty tactics." Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said he couldn't comment on pending litigation.

The names of the defendants and their cases filed in state court are:

Frank Waterhouse is suing for unlawful seizure with excessive force, alleging that police fired a Taser and bean bag rounds at him May 27, 2006, because he was videotaping their search of a friend's property in the 5800 block of Northeast Portland Highway.

Police officers followed a police dog onto the property during a search for a fleeing suspect. After the dog keyed on a car, officers broke out a window. Waterhouse was standing on a dirt embankment at the edge of the property videotaping the search. At one point, he yelled to his friend, "Yes, I got it all on film. They had no right to come on this property." He says in the suit that police immediately came after him, yelling at him to put the camera down. Waterhouse said seconds later he was shot with a bean bag gun and a Taser and fell to the ground.

Officers wrote in their reports that Waterhouse ran off, they chased and then bean-bagged and Tasered him. One officer wrote, "He had refused to drop the camera which could be used as a weapon."

Waterhouse was arrested, accused of criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. A jury acquitted him of all charges.

Ryan Dunn is suing for unlawful seizure, saying he was singled out at a public demonstration after criticizing the police for interfering with the Oct. 5, 2006, demonstration.

He says officers went through the crowd, seized Dunn on the sidewalk, shoved him up against the wall of a building, grabbed him by his hair and beard and dragged him through the police line into custody. He was charged with interfering with police and disorderly conduct. A jury acquitted him.

Gregory Benton is suing for unlawful search and seizure, saying police forced him out of his apartment at gunpoint in the middle of the night, and searched his home without probable cause on Sept. 18, 2006. Police, responding to an anonymous call of a shooting, tried to search his apartment. Benton refused to allow the police in without a warrant, but said he eventually capitulated to escalating threats from the police. When he came out of his apartment he was faced with nine police officers with guns drawn. He said officers then went through his apartment, looking in drawers and cupboards. Benton was not charged with a crime.

Richard Prentice is filing a tort claim notice with the city, saying he plans to sue for false arrest and violation of his right to freedom of speech. On June 14, Prentice was posting fliers critical of the officers involved in the death of James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old man who suffered from schizophrenia.

When Prentice began to tape to the federal court house a flier that accused the police of murder, an officer told him to take it down. Prentice says he agreed to take it down, but told the officer that he'd just put it up somewhere else. He claims the officer forced him to the ground, arrested him and took him to a holding cell, where he was confronted with two of the officers involved in the Chasse death.

Three of the four men are represented by the Portland law firm Haile-Greenwald. Burton is represented by attorney Ashlee Albies.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Motions by Chasse Intervenors

Motions were filed by intervenors in the case of Chasse v Humphreys on October 11.

Intervenors include The Oregonian, Willamette Week, AP, KATU, KPTV, KOIN, KGW and the Portland Tribune.

The claimant is Maxine Bernstein, reporter for the Oregonian. The motion asks the court to not protect discovery documents requested by the Chasse attorney Tom Steenson from the City and County, and presumably also from Tri-Met and American Medical Response.

Attorneys for the intervenors are with Davis Wright Tremaine of Portland and include Duane Bosworth, Derek Green and Vanessa Usui.

Memo in support of motion to intervention (PDF)
Declaration Of Maxine Bernstein In Support Of Motion To Intervene (PDF)
Motion to Intervene (PDF)

Police ordered to supply Chasse files

Suit - Judge Dennis Hubel tells the city and the bureau to hurry up and produce documents

from The Oregonian

A federal judge, disturbed by what he called the "snail's pace" of discovery in a civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of James P. Chasse Jr., on Thursday gave the city and the Portland Police Bureau several ultimatums to cough up a slew of documents in the man's death.

Documents sought range from officers' cell phone records to internal investigative reports and training bulletins.

In cases in which city attorneys said they weren't sure whether the documents existed or who had them, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis J. Hubel directed the city and the police chief to find them.

Chasse, who suffered from schizophrenia, died of broad-based trauma to his chest after police struggled to take him into custody Sept. 17, 2006, in the Pearl District. The lawsuit contends the officers violated Chasse's civil rights, and it says the city has a pattern of failing to discipline officers involved in use of deadly force.

Tom Steenson, the lawyer representing Chasse's family, told the judge he had requested but not received any police policy and training documents related to officers' use of force.

Jim Rice, a deputy city attorney, countered that the city doesn't know where all those documents might be. He said finding them would be a costly, time-consuming process.

Rice said his office went to the Police Bureau's training division and asked for materials without success. He concluded delivering documents might not be the training officers' highest priority.

At that, Hubel suggested the training division might respond when it learns he's ordering Rice to outline within 15 days the documents available and the time and cost to produce them.

"Please let them know they'll be on the carpet next, answering my questions," Hubel said.

Hubel also ordered the city to provide documents relating to the bureau's internal review of Chasse's death.

The city has maintained that the investigation was ongoing, and Chasse's lawyers could not obtain the documents until it was completed.

"We're not going to wait until you're done," Hubel said.

Steenson also is seeking all documents the Police Bureau provided to an outside consultant, the Police Assessment Resource Center, which has studied the city's review of officer-involved shootings and deaths in custody since 2003.

After the city argued it didn't know what documents the center received, the judge ordered Police Chief Rosie Sizer to send a memo to officers to find out exactly what material was shared and whether it's available. The chief must report back to him within 20 days.

To move the case along, the judge ordered the release of most documents in question under protective order, meaning they cannot be distributed publicly. Steenson agreed to that provision for now.

However, the judge is expected to rule on whether to issue a protective order for the discovery items pending trial.

The city argued that the documents' release would harm the officers involved, impede a fair trial and chill the free flow of information among officers. Steenson urged the judge not to grant a protective order.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chasse Case: Local Media Group Hires Bigshot Attorney To Compel City to Publicly Release Officers’ Disciplinary Records

from Portland Mercury

A conglomerate of Portland Media including the Oregonian and Willamette Week, the Tribune and all our local TV stations has hired an attorney, Duane Bosworth, of the international law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, to argue that Federal Court should force the City of Portland to release information publicly about the disciplinary records of the Portland Police Bureau Officers and Sheriff’s Deputy involved in the controversial death in custody of James Philip Chasse last September.

James Rice, Deputy City Attorney, and Carlo(s) driello and Susan Denaway, attorneys for the County, and attorneys for American Medical Response, filed a claim earlier this year asking the court for a “protective order,” which would keep the officers’ disciplinary records secret from the public. On that condition, they would then be given to attorney Tom Steenson, who is litigating the Chasse case on behalf of the dead man’s family, but he would not then be able to disseminate them outside his office.

Yesterday, Bosworth, whose services are extremely expensive, filed a motion to intervene in the case, on behalf of the local media conglomerate—arguing that the disciplinary records of the officers are not only crucial to the Chasse family’s case against the city and county (Steenson is arguing that the bureau could have intervened earlier to discipline Officer Christopher Humphreys, who has the second-highest record of use of force in the police bureau)—but that the public, too, has a right to know about these things.

That motion will not be heard today, as it was filed so late yesterday evening, said Judge Dennis Hubel, presiding. But it will proceed later, and will have far-reaching implications for all Portlanders.

Bosworth, talking to an Oregonian reporter in the elevator after this morning’s hearing, who it felt like was semi-frantically gesturing, trying to get him to shut up, described Hubel’s statement about the timing of his motion to intervene, as “preposterous.”


Update, 5pm: What follows is pretty much everything that happened with regard to releasing information to the public about the Chasse case, at today's court hearing. There'll be a story in next week's paper that boils it all down, but since one of the major issues in today's arguments was "the public interest," I thought why not simply lay it all out for those of you who want to know, and let you read as closely as possible about what happened. It's loooong, but I was interested all the way through. So who knows, maybe you will be, too.

Original Post: If the city and county eventually win the right to keep the information secret, then Police Chief Rosie Sizer and Sheriff Bernie Giusto will continue to have their hands tied with regard to improving transparency in cases like this—unlikely to improve the community’s trust in the Police Bureau and Sheriff’s office.

This morning’s oral argument, in Courtroom 9B of the Federal Courthouse on SW 3rd, was just between Steenson and the city, county, and AMR—the ambulance firm which did not transport Chasse to hospital after his beating, but instead sent him with the officers to jail.

Regardless of whether he can eventually make it public, Steenson wants more information from the city as soon as possible.

That kind of information includes personnel and medical records for Officer Humphreys and Sergeant Nice, their phone records, information about whom they spoke to within hours of the incident, and so on. It also includes information about standard operating procedures and training procedures in the police bureau, both written and anecdotal.

“There won’t be a written policy saying ‘we’re not going to discipline officers based on what they do.’ But I believe there will be evidence that the city does not take the steps necessary to discipline or terminate officers in cases like these,” said Steenson, in his opening arguments.

“The word on the street if you’re a police officer is that essentially you can act with impunity,” he continued. “And in order to prove that claim, we have to have the various materials.”

Deputy City Attorney James Rice responded: “The protective order really is integral to what we’re talking about today. We’ve produced 5500 pages worth of information, and my legal assistant has worked hard with Mr.Steenson’s legal assistant. We have submitted a significant number of documents in this case. In a way it’s a man who creates a barrier, and then complains to the defendants about the barrier that exists.”

Steenson agreed, until the issue of any protective order can be resolved, to treat any documents released by the city as if they were under protective order.

“If the court were to issue a protective order, then everything else would fall like dominoes,” said Rice.

Judge Hubel said he’s not going to tell the court what his thoughts are on the protective order at this stage, but that he thinks there’s going to be some information subject to protective order, and some, not.

Among other things, Steenson is seeking disciplinary information from the police bureau for the last 25 years about the city’s handling of deaths in custody.

“We absolutely need that kind of discovery in order to proceed with proving the claim we are making against the city,” he said.

Steenson also wants details of the cops’ Internal Affairs investigation into Chasse’s death. That includes the decision of the Bureau’s performance review board, its use of force review board, the officers’ disciplinary records, and whether or not they were identified by the Bureau’s “early warning system.”

“All of those types of processes are identified in the Police Bureau’s directives as part of its management system, and we have received none of that information,” said Steenson. “They should be produced, and should certainly not go under any protective order.”

The city tried to argue that it shouldn’t release the information until the internal affairs investigation is complete, although it could not give a date when that will be.

“Why should Mr.Steenson have to wait until it’s over to start his investigation, when everything is stale?” asked Judge Hubel. “We’re not going to wait until they’re done. You’ll supply them now. And as things come into your possession, at some reasonable frequency,” [the city will have to give them over.]

Hubel also ordered the City Attorney to get information from the Police Bureau’s training division on its standard operating procedures, within ten days. Rice implied that the training division has not been forthcoming with information, “because it is focused on its primary task” of training police officers.

Hubel told the City Attorney to tell the training division they need to get him the information, or tell him how much effort is going to be required to get it, within 10 days—or else they’ll see him in court.

Steenson also wants to see any complaints relating to the officers named in the case. “We do think we are entitled to performance and misconduct type complaints,” he said.

The City Attorney is happy to produce those documents under protective order, which Steenson agreed to, until that issue can be worked out.

Steenson also asked for Officer Humphreys’ career-long 2400 arrest reports, saying his office “has evidence,” it believes, that Humphreys has a “history or pattern of falsifying police reports.”

The City Attorney said that would be time-intensive, adding that “this sort of gill-netting operation” would be very expensive.

Judge Hubel ordered the production only of Humphreys’ reports as they relate to tort claims filed against the city, and for the City Attorney’s office to find out if there’s a way to link Humphreys’ alleged falsification of reports to use of force, prior to the introduction of use of force reports, which happened relatively recently in the bureau's history.

Then they broke for lunch. They pick back up at 1.15pm, when Judge Hubel hopes the details of a protective order will be thrashed out.

Update, 3pm: Between 1.15 and 2:45, Judge Hubel ordered more information to be released:

1.All the city’s information on Crisis Intervention Training, except where it includes information about psychological issues as they relate to individuals—which will be redacted.

2.The City Attorney’s office must also now work with the Police Bureau, Independent Police Review, and PARC—the California-based agency which has produced three reports on officer-involved shootings, and has another one due out next year—to produce as much source-information as possible upon which the 4 PARC reports are based. The Chief of Police will also communicate with all her officers, asking them to come forward with any documents they may have had returned to them by Parc over the last few years.

3.The city must also release documents it has already released in another case called Price, which is currently under appeal at the 9th circuit court of appeal, which describe what the police bureau has done, and is doing, to address use of force by police officers, back to the mid 1980s.

4.The city must produce all supporting documentation, which led to the production by the Police Bureau of its Spring 2007 use of force report.

Update, 4.30pm: The Judge in the Chasse case is going to think about whether or not to issue a protective order to keep information about the police officers involved in James Chasse’s death largely secret between the City Attorney’s office and that of Chasse’s attorney, Tom Steenson, before it goes to court.

“Whatever rights the public have to watching their court system in action, and I concede and agree that there are rights to that to take place, the primary purpose for the courts being here is to resolve the disputes between the litigants as far as possible,” said Judge Hubel, this afternoon. “The vast majority of the time, the public pay no attention to what we do here. In this case they have been, and I would expect them to continue to pay attention.”

Here’s Deputy City Attorney Jame’s Rice’s justification to keep the information under wraps: “The threat of harm to officers in this case is not theoretical. We’ve had officer Humphreys say in his affidavit that he’s been stopped by an armed person who had information about him.”

Judge Hubel asked if this was before or after the Chasse incident. It was actually beforehand, Rice said.

“He also works under cover—information about him jeopardizes him,” Rice continued. “We have the info that there’s an element in the community that goes around putting up posters of heavy-caliber Smith & Wesson pistols pointing at police. Why should an officer be jeopardized by discovery matters? We’re interested in it not getting out there, and in today’s world, placed on the Internet. It’s more than annoyance and embarrassment, it’s a level, truly, of oppression to the police officers.”

“Ultimately another of the issues in this city is having a fair trial,” Rice said. “It simply doesn’t lend itself to the defendant’s having a fair trial down the road later. Protective orders tend to morph. At the present time, I think we’ve laid out good cause reasons for the implementation of the protective order. For now, it seems to me, is that the proper thing to do is to accept that the court impose a protective order.”

Attorneys for the county and American Medical Response also said they wanted the information kept private.

Steenson, attorney for the Chasse family, responded: “Those IAD reports, all of that information, that type of information, that comprises the kind of information we’re talking about, relates to the operation of the Portland Police Bureau. And I believe that it’s a fair statement to make that historically, lawyers have not been as conscious about the public’s right to look at things as perhaps we should have over the years. I also think it’s fair to say there’s been sort of a shift, whether it’s because of more aggressive litigation over the issue, as to the recognition by the courts, to the judiciary being much more careful about what information ought to be kept away from the public.”

“The public interest here is probably off the chart. I don’t think that the generalized concerns the defendants have about the standard operating procedures are enough to outweigh the citizens’ concerns.”

Rice responded: “One of the things lawyers do have to be concerned about is not impeding a fair trial. And that’s going to be difficult once the media circus gets going. What we’re looking for is to have the jury be able to come into trial in an unbiased fashion. For purposes right now, if we’ve got good cause, let’s put the protective order in place, and move the litigation along. I don’t see why he has a say in this other than this ‘right of the public,’ which he is not representing when he makes this argument because it is going to be harder to have a fair trial.”

“I’m going to take the motion under advisement, for now,” said Judge Hubel—meaning he’s going to make a decision in a few days. “But I can’t ignore what is glaring in this case, and that is that discovery has been essentially going at a snail’s pace because of a dispute about the protective order. We would all be much further down the road if there had been some kind of protective order in place and some discovery could have happened.”

Attorneys in the Case of James Chasse

Attorneys for the Defense

James Rice - City of Portland

Susan Marie Dunaway, Assistant Multnomah County Attorney, BA Immaculate Heart College, JD Loyola at Los Angeles. Susan advises the Sheriff's Office and Corrections Health and represents the County in tort litigation, appellate issues and other matters in state and federal courts.

Carlo Calandriello, Assistant Multnomah County Attorney, BS, MS, Florida International University, JD Northwestern School of Law of Lewis & Clark College. Carlo represents the County in tort and civil rights litigation and other matters in state and federal courts. Carlo is fluent in Spanish.

UNKNOWN - American Medical Response (general counsel for AMR is Todd Zimmerman.)

Attorneys for the Plaintiff

Tom Steenson - Steenson, Schumann, Tewksbury, Creighton & Rose

Attorneys for the Interventor(s)

Duane Bosworth
- Davis Wright Tremaine

Thursday, September 20, 2007

One Year Later - What Has the City Learned Since Chasse?

from the Portland Mercury

A year ago this week, James Chasse died in police custody after being beaten, Tasered, and hogtied by officers, and then transported to the county detention center instead of being taken to a hospital.

It shocked the city, given that police had targeted Chasse for merely acting suspiciously. After coming back from vacation almost two weeks after the tragedy, Mayor Tom Potter pledged to form a committee that would seek ways to reform how police interact with people who are mentally ill, and to push for more funding for mental health services.

A year later, some of that has happened. Police officers are now required to undergo crisis intervention training, and according to police spokesman Brian Schmautz, some 25 officers per month have taken the classes since February—that's approximately 200 officers as of this writing. And the 2007 state legislature, as boasted about by Potter in an Oregonian op-ed on the anniversary of Chasse's death, put more money into mental health services in part as a result of lobbying by Potter and Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler.

But a full year of politicians talking about reforms to the mental health system hasn't been enough for those still seeking justice for Chasse's death.

"Jim Chasse didn't die because of his mental health issue," said Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association (MHA) during a Monday, September 17, protest outside of city hall. Instead, Renaud and dozens of other protestors argued, Chasse died because he was beaten by cops.

And that was the message of the day, as carried by numerous signs that read "Protect and Serve does not mean Beat and Kill" and "It's not about a few bad apples, it's about the whole barrel."

In a list of unanswered questions and unresolved concerns delivered to the mayor's office, the Mental Health Association asked repeatedly, "Why is the district attorney in charge of prosecuting police beatings and deaths?" and "Why haven't any police officers ever been charged with using excessive force?"

In other words, what activists are demanding isn't necessarily more funding for mental health, though they welcome it. Instead, they are asking for more accountability for officers who cross the line. The last question in MHA's letter speaks to the concerns of the activists gathered on the city hall sidewalk: "Since when is looking odd a crime?"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Remembering James Chasse's death

opinion editorial from the Oregonian

A public inquest is still needed, along with a mental health triage center in Portland

Mental health advocates showed Monday that they are determined not to let the death of James P. Chasse Jr. slip into oblivion.

Although Chasse's death isn't truly in danger of being forgotten -- it has already had profound effects on the city and the state -- advocates are right to keep the pressure on at City Hall. They shouldn't let up until Portland has a 24-hour crisis triage center, where officers can take for evaluation people who appear to be mentally ill. Right now, they're taken to hospital emergency rooms, which doesn't do them, or the community, much good. They're just released.

Chasse, a frail musician who was mentally ill, died in police custody on Sept. 17, 2006, after doing, well, what exactly did he do? The main thing, it appears, is that he acted a little strange and ran when police asked him to stop. And when they caught up with him, and an officer tackled or fell on Chasse, he didn't just meekly allow himself to be taken into custody for doing -- what was it again? Nothing. He continued to scream in terror, and fight back as officers kicked, punched and Tasered him.

When Chasse died not quite two hours later, he had 16 broken ribs, a punctured lung and massive internal bleeding. Why paramedics allowed him to be taken to the jail is not clear, or why jail personnel didn't insist he be taken by ambulance to a hospital. Instead, he was taken the slow way around to the hospital, in a police car.

That's among the things that have changed in the year since, however. Officers are now required to obtain a paramedic's approval to take someone in Chasse's situation to the hospital. They're also required to tell medical personnel how much force they used.

The most pivotal change, though, thanks to Mayor Tom Potter, is that Portland is now giving patrol officers 40 hours of crisis intervention training. Although that will not prevent all deaths at police hands, or in police custody, it does teach officers what a frightening place the world is for someone who has a mental illness. And the Oregon Legislature even approved a new requirement that police recruits in the state academy undergo 24 hours of such training.

Thus Chasse's death has had city- and state-shaking consequences. Still, there are many unanswered questions about the incident, in part because the Portland Police Bureau's internal reviews haven't been completed. Another reason is that there has never been a proper public inquest into what happened. Such an inquest is still badly needed.

Every death at police hands or in police custody deserves such illumination. Without light on the subject, questions only multiply and theories orbit indefinitely in the best possible place for them to spin, the dark.

Of the list of people who have died either at police hands or in police custody, there is perhaps no one whose death has sparked more outrage or more changes than Chasse's has.

But that's not the same thing as saying it has sparked enough.

Police still shoulder an unfair burden

from the Oregonian, by Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association

One year ago, James Chasse lost his life in police custody. His family was devastated and surely remains so. The lives of the Portland officers involved that night were also changed forever. But as we look back on that sad and tragic event, we have a perspective today no one could have had that night.

That night officers observed a man urinating in public and acting suspiciously, a routine occurrence downtown. As officers approached, the man ran, and they attempted to contain him using a variety of trained and approved methods, including verbal commands, control holds and a Taser. He resisted so fiercely that it took three officers to take him into custody. He bit one officer, causing severe pain.

James Chasse could have stopped and complied, but he didn't, and the officers had no way of knowing at the time that he suffered from mental illness. The officers used the degree of force they believed was reasonably necessary to bring a suspect into control. And once he was handcuffed, they called for medical assistance.

Every decision from that point forward was guided by advice from medical professionals. Police officers were told by paramedics at the scene and later by nurses at the jail that he was safe to transport. It was officers who noticed Chasse was seriously ill, and it was officers who performed CPR and again summoned paramedics.

A grand jury reviewed extensive evidence on this case and concluded that the officers did not engage in any criminal conduct. The internal review of their actions will surely exonerate the officers of any procedural misconduct as well.

Nevertheless, James Chasse lost his life that day. Why?

By default, Portland's police have become front-line mental health workers. In 1995 Dammasch Hospital closed, and in the late 1990s the Crisis Triage Center in Portland also closed. Now hospital emergency rooms are the last resource for the mentally ill, and they are ill-equipped to treat them. This larger context is a burden not only to police officers but to the community every day. There are countless people on the street in crisis, and little is done to help them.

Not long after the Chasse incident, Mayor Tom Potter announced that he had found funding for Crisis Intervention Team training for all Portland police officers. Why does funding become available only after tragic events? And, while training is valuable and appreciated, why do the mayor and others assume that more training is the answer and could have averted this outcome? That's a simplistic view when mentally ill people are clearly at risk alone on the streets, which is where they have been assigned by our mental health system.

Police officers routinely assist people in need, generally without incident. We use force in less than 1 percent of all calls for service, and we make contact with the public 420,000 times a year. When we use force, we use higher levels on people who exhibit higher levels of resistance to police requests. To do otherwise is to risk the safety of officers. A recent report on use of force by Portland police indicated there was nothing to suggest that officers use force inappropriately.

Increased police training is welcome, but it is not enough. The mental health system is broken, and police officers shoulder the additional burden of this failed system. A respectful remembrance of James Chasse's life and death would be a renewed commitment to repair that system.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Preventing another James Chasse tragedy

by Portland Mayor Tom Potter

It has been a year since James Chasse died while in police custody, a tragedy that moved our community -- to tears, to anger -- like no other in my time as mayor. It is important for the city to acknowledge this tragedy and to take steps to ensure a similar event does not recur in Portland.

I said at the time in my apology to the Chasse family, and to all Portlanders, that I would use this tragedy to improve how our most fragile residents are treated by our police, our jails, our medical professionals and the mental health system. While I know that nothing can ease the anguish and pain the Chasse family feels for the loss of their son, we have made important progress in keeping that commitment.

In the wake of James' death, every Portland police officer is now receiving 40 hours of training in crisis intervention techniques, which will help officers to identify and successfully engage individuals with special needs on the street and to de-escalate situations until mental health professionals can take over. The Police Bureau also has hired a full-time mental health professional to oversee the training, development and implementation of new policies regarding working with people with mental illness.

We have funded additional staff for Project Respond, which has a team dedicated to partnering with officers to respond immediately to crisis situations. This new team also identifies high-risk individuals and provides outreach and monitoring services to them.

Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler and I have lobbied in Salem for increased state funding for programs to help the mentally ill, working closely with Sen. Avel Gordly. Thanks to Gordly and other members of the Oregon Legislature, almost a dozen mental health bills were passed last session, along with an additional $41.3 million in new funding for such needs as training for every police officer in Oregon to respond more effectively to the consumers of mental health services.

Portland police also have changed how they transport injured or sick persons and how they share information with paramedics and jail nurses. Officers no longer transport people who have been engaged in a prolonged physical struggle or are seriously injured, unconscious, suffering a seizure or extremely drunk unless a paramedic on the scene approves it.

Chief Rosie Sizer is changing the bureau's use-of force policy to reduce the amount of force used when arresting or taking someone into custody. Portland officers currently use force in only 5 percent of all arrests, and we are committed to reducing the use of force in a way that provides effective policing and protects residents and officers.

One major gap in the mental health system that has not been filled is the critical need for a mental health crisis triage center where officers can immediately take a mentally ill person for assessment and appropriate treatment. Multnomah County Commissioner Lisa Naito has proposed funding such a center, and I hope her idea receives serious consideration.

These steps will go a long way toward removing the stigma surrounding mental illness and will provide more humane responses on the part of the police and others. Jail cells should never be our only option for people with mental illness.

Ultimately, the issue of how we respond will never be resolved until it is no longer acceptable for anyone in our community who is struggling with mental illness to be left to wander Portland streets instead of receiving the help they so desperately need.

Emotions in police death still raw

from The Oregonian

A protest is planned today to keep alive the memory of James Chasse, a mentally ill man who died a year ago in the custody of Portland police

One year after James P. Chasse Jr. died while in police custody, emotions are still raw.

The grainy cell phone image of the slender 42-year-old man lying cuffed, face-down on the sidewalk as officers, firefighters and paramedics stand by haunts those who say the police beat the schizophrenic man to death.

Police officers, who recoil at that accusation, are frustrated at what they see as an unfair attack on their integrity by people who don't understand the realities of their job. Each year, police encounter thousands of mentally ill people -- some harmless, some violent -- and officers most often resolve those encounters peacefully. Accidents, however, do happen, they say.

But people pushing for police accountability, especially those who knew Chasse, say they suspect a cover-up: A state medical examiner listed Chasse's cause of death as blunt-force trauma to his chest from falling to the pavement or from someone falling on him, not from the kicks and punches dealt by police in an attempt to subdue him. A grand jury exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing the three officers involved. The Police Bureau hasn't completed an internal inquiry into the death.

Protesters plan to stand across the street from Central Precinct starting at 8 a.m. today, then join other activists outside City Hall at 4 p.m.

"If you believe we beat him to death, then you're in a completely different place than if you believe he died because someone fell on him," police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said. "And it's very difficult to have a discussion."

In response to a lawsuit claiming excessive use of force, filed by Chasse's family earlier this year, the city attorney's office last month filed a motion to fight the public release of an internal investigation that will determine whether officers violated bureau policy and a training review that could suggest changes to police tactics. Attorneys say they want to protect officers' privacy and that releasing information about tactics could jeopardize public safety.

The legal maneuver disconcerts critics such as Dan Handelman, a spokesman for the citizens group Portland Copwatch.

"They're trying to make an argument that we shouldn't know," Handelman said.

Chasse's death stirred such passion because he wasn't armed or posing a danger to others. What's more, the struggle leading up to Chasse's death happened in one of the swankiest parts of the city, the Pearl District, in front of a restaurant full of people.

Doris Cameron-Minard, past president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Oregon, said the case attracts attention because it encapsulates so many of the problems that police have with the mentally ill.

The following account of what happened is based on official reports and witness statements.

When Officer Christopher Humphreys thought he saw Chasse urinating in the Pearl District the afternoon of Sept. 17, 2006, he assumed he was looking at a drunk or a drug addict. He didn't realize the man was mentally ill.

When officers called out, Chasse flashed a look of terror and ran. The police chased him. Humphreys, who weighed about 100 pounds more than Chasse, later told detectives that he caught up to Chasse and shoved him down. Some witnesses described it as a tackle.

Although the medical examiner later said Chasse probably already had been dealt the fatal blow by then, witnesses and police alike were amazed at how Chasse squirmed with unusual strength.

Two other officers -- Sgt. Kyle Nice and Multnomah County Deputy Brett Burton joined in the fight to subdue Chasse -- kicking, punching and shocking him with a Taser as he screamed and tried to bite them. Then he suddenly went limp.

American Medical Response paramedics who examined Chasse minutes later said he was in good enough shape to go to jail. According to a bystander, Chasse begged paramedics not to leave him.

Officers tied his feet to his hands in a "hog-tie" and drove him to jail. A jail nurse, who looked at Chasse through the window of a holding cell for less than 90 seconds, thought he might be faking a seizure. She told officers he had to go to the hospital. Instead of calling an ambulance, officers took him in their patrol car.

Chasse slumped over in the back seat, and officers pulled over to start giving him chest compressions. He died, one hour and 45 minutes after he encountered officers. He had 16 broken ribs, a punctured lung and massive internal bleeding.

"He was this innocent victim," said Cameron-Minard, describing the significance of the case. "It wasn't just 'He had a gun, he pointed it, and they shot back.' "

Mayor Tom Potter, who also is police commissioner, reacted to Chasse's death by ordering every Portland patrol officer and sergeant to undergo crisis-intervention training, at a cost of $500,000. So far this year, 200 officers, including Multnomah County deputies, have completed the 40-hour course that trains officers to better identify and deal with the mentally ill.

The Legislature passed a law requiring all recruits at the state's police academy to undergo 24 hours of crisis-intervention training.

"There's a trust problem"

Although the new training requirements have garnered widespread praise, some advocates for the mentally ill say a police culture of insensitivity has not changed.

Jason Renaud, a volunteer at the Mental Health Association of Portland and a high school friend of Chasse's, said families of mentally ill people don't feel comfortable calling on Portland police when loved ones need help.

Concern is so widespread that his nonprofit advocacy organization has received about 500 calls and e-mails about Chasse's death in the past year.

"There's a trust problem," Renaud said. Renaud, on the other hand, has respect for the work of many officers.

"My experience is the police department (is made up of) professional people who care a lot and have a difficult job," Renaud said. "The mental health system is in shambles, and they get stuck with it. And while they get stuck with it, it is their job."

Renaud said the response of some members of the bureau to Chasse's death has fueled the lack of trust.

In June, police officers hauled citizen activist Richard Prentice off to a holding cell for posting a flier on the federal courthouse that harshly criticized the three officers involved in Chasse's death. According to a complaint Prentice has filed with the city, two of those officers confronted Prentice in his holding cell.

And in the months after Chasse's death, editorials printed in the police union's newsletter also have undermined trust, Renaud said. One states that to believe Chasse's death was caused by police negligence is "a display of insanity."

The sentiments of union President Robert King have upset Renaud, too.

Last fall, after the Portland Tribune ran a story critical of officers who reported the most use of force, King gave the officers -- including one who was involved in Chasse's death -- Starbucks gift cards as a show of support.

Union supports officers

King said he gave the Starbucks cards to the officers because he thought the article was unfair in that it did not adequately explain why officers sometimes have to use force as part of their jobs.

The union president said the officers involved in Chasse's death followed their training and used the force necessary to stop a man who was flailing violently. They also were deeply affected by his death.

"It was accidental, and it was tragic," King said. "And why people can't understand that is lost on me."

As state support for the mentally ill has receded, police officers increasingly encounter people in mental crisis. Officers used to have the option of delivering people to Dammasch State Hospital in Wilsonville, but it closed in 1995 as part of a national movement to de-institutionalize the mentally ill.

Another option disappeared in 2001 with the shuttering of a 24-hour crisis triage center in Portland where officers could drop off people for medical treatment. Today, officers take people who pose an imminent danger to themselves or others to hospital emergency rooms, which frequently release them within hours.

"What's bothersome is the officers are the ones left to deal with the mentally ill," King said. "The city of Portland, the county of Multnomah and the state of Oregon have abandoned them."

Earlier this summer, officers responded eight times in three weeks to the home of a Southeast Portland woman who was threatening to kill herself. Seven times, they drove her to a local hospital for evaluation. Each time, she was quickly released and they were called to her home again.

Officers collaborated with the head of the bureau's new crisis-intervention-training program and helped get the woman committed to the state mental system.

Liesbeth Gerritsen, the head of the training program, said it's making a difference. She quoted an officer who told her that he'd changed his attitude about a mentally ill man he frequently sees in the field.

"Before, I kind of thought he was a jerk. But now I feel kind of sorry for him," Gerritsen remembers the officer telling her after he completed the course. "For me, as a trainer, that made me really happy."

Police Chief Rosie Sizer, a big supporter of crisis-intervention training, opens each 40-hour course in person, reminding officers that their very presence may intimidate some.

"What we often fail to realize is how much people fear us," Sizer said.

The bureau has instituted other changes: Officers no longer take people who have been in a prolonged struggle to the hospital without a paramedic's approval. They are also required to tell medics about any force applied to a subject, something that wasn't fully communicated in Chasse's case.

Advocates for the mentally ill are still pushing for a 24-hour crisis triage center. Efforts to get money from the Legislature failed, but Multnomah County Commissioner Lisa Naito has proposed using some of the revenue from existing business income taxes to pay for the center.

Hold officers accountable

Copwatch's Handelman said he supports many of the proposals suggested after Chasse's death, such as reopening the triage center and providing more housing for the mentally ill. But he said that none of those measures addresses the reasons Chasse died.

Handelman wants the focus to stay on holding the officers and the justice system accountable.

He said the public doesn't know how aggressively prosecutors questioned witnesses during the grand jury proceedings. They don't know whether police followed their policies and training, and if so, whether those need to be changed.

To learn the answers, Handelman said, the public needs to see the grand jury transcripts and the internal investigative files that the city doesn't want released.

"It's about the transparency of the system and holding the officers accountable and making sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again," Handelman said.

James Chasse Died A Year Ago In Police Custody


Monday is the one-year anniversary of the death of James Chasse, a mentally disabled Portland man who died after being arrested. Kristian Foden-Vencil reports.

Chasse died after being chased and tackled to the ground by Multnomah County Sheriff deputy Bret Burton and Portland Police Officers Christopher Humphery and Kyle Nice.

Chasse was put in jail and was only taken to the hospital after he was unconscious. He died on the way.

Jason Renaud of The Mental Health Association of Portland, says the organization will hand a letter to Mayor Tom Potter this afternoon.

Jason Renaud: “A lot of our supporters and friends have questions about what happened to Jim that really haven’t been answered, by the police or by the mayor’s office. And these questions are persistent and deserve answers.”

Mayor Potter has stressed the need for additional mental health resources, and the police department has expanded its Crisis Intervention Team training and medical transportation policy.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Police Unions Contracts

Several questions sent to the Mental Health Association of Portland are answered best by reviewing the contract between the Portland Police Association and the city, and the contract between the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association and the city.

Both contracts reside on the city web site.

Portland Police Association 2006-2010 (PDF Document, 457kb)

Portland Police Commanding Officers Association 2006-2010 (PDF Document, 154kb)

City alters procedures in year after mentally ill man's death


One year later, the death of Portland's James Chasse, Jr. is spurring changes in how police, jails, and paramedics do their jobs.

Chasse died from chest injuries September 17, 2006 after the mentally ill man scuffled with Portland Police officers.

That evening, they made contact with Chasse after he was seen urinating in public.

Chasse, a frail-looking 42-year-old schizophrenic, was defiant as he led police on a short foot chase.

The city’s review of the incident describes how the group took a hard tumble onto a sidewalk in Portland’s Pearl District.

Two hours later, Chasse died from chest-crushing injuries suffered during his tangle with police.

“In all the years I've been around policing, there've only been a few incidents that have touched the community like the James Chasse case,” said Portland Mayor Tom Potter.

Potter says during the year since Chasse's died, promises of change are slowly becoming fulfilled.

“Every officer and supervisor who works the street will go through a 40-hour training on how to deescalate tension (with) people suffering from mental illness.”

At Multnomah County’s downtown jail -where police brought Chasse briefly before his injuries were fully recognized- Sheriff Bernie Giusto says there are now strict policies in place dictating how paramedics and police communicate with jail medical staff about the condition of suspects when they arrive there.

“There are certainly some adjustments that need to happen,” Giusto said.

Chasse is believed to have died that night while authorities transported him via a police cruiser to Providence Hospital.

Giusto says that is no longer allowed.

“They will -under most circumstance- leave in a medical transport vehicle. They're no longer allowed to be loaded back into patrol cars.”

Potter praises those changes, but he says one change in particular is sorely missing.

“The police need a crisis triage center, a place where they can take people with mental illness to have them diagnosed.”

County Commissioner Lisa Naito agrees.

She is trying to find scarce county budget money for such a triage center.

“I want to make it reality, these recommendations.”

Naito has a family member who suffers from mental illness.

She believes Chasse's story would've turned out differently if fully trained police had a place to bring Chasse other than jail or a hospital.

“From my perspective it could've been my family member that this would've happened to,” she said.

Naito is now looking for up to $4 million dollars in county funding for a new, secure 16-bed mental triage facility.

Police and deputies should be up-to-date on crisis intervention training within a year and a half.

In the meantime, the city faces a civil lawsuit from Chasse's family.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


from Willamette Week

One of the cops accused in last year’s killing of James Chasse Jr. while he was in police custody is named in a new lawsuit alleging police battery. Portland police officer Christopher Humphreys and three other officers are accused of beating a suspect named Charles Manigo during a May 4, 2006, arrest at the Rose Quarter TriMet transit stop. Humphreys was one of the three officers named in a federal civil-rights lawsuit over the death of Chasse, a 42-year-old schizophrenic who died Sept. 17, 2006, from injuries he sustained during his arrest.

An earlier WW investigation found Humphreys has one of the highest use-of-force rates in the Portland Police Bureau.

In the new lawsuit, filed Aug. 21 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Manigo seeks $135,000 from the City of Portland for alleged injuries, pain and suffering, and malicious prosecution. The police and city attorney’s office declined to comment.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chasse death stays hazy

from Portland Tribune
City presses to protect cops’ internal probe in mentally ill man’s case

As the one-year anniversary of the death of James Chasse Jr. approaches, mental health activists and Portland city officials will spend it in contradictory ways.

In a 4 p.m. ceremony Monday at City Hall, the Mental Health Association of Portland will ask for more information about Chasse’s controversial death. The group’s request, however, will come at a time when the city is going to court to prevent the release of more information about the incident.

On Sept. 17, 2006, near Northwest 18th Avenue and Everett Street, Portland Police officer Christopher Humphreys thought he saw the 42-year-old Chasse, who was mentally ill, urinating publicly.

When Chasse ran, officers gave chase and tackled and subdued him. An autopsy report attributed his death to massive internal trauma, including the fracturing of almost all of Chasse’s ribs.

A grand jury found insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against the officers involved. But that is not the end of the matter. An internal investigation scrutinizing whether officers handled the incident properly will not be completed until early next year, according to the city attorney’s office.

Also, Chasse’s family has filed a lawsuit against the city. It’s in that context that the city attorney’s office has requested a protective order to prevent the release of the bureau’s internal investigation — once it is completed — as well as other documents.

Absent such an order, the internal report almost assuredly would be releasable under Oregon Public Records law. But if a federal judge grants the city’s request, the internal probe would be kept secret indefinitely.

Jason Renaud, who heads the Mental Health Association of Portland, said the internal probe would resolve some of the unanswered questions swirling around how “Jim-Jim” died.

“I would encourage the city to be open with this document, to not pursue this, and to disclose this information,” Renaud said. He added that what will make people feel safer is “not more training, not more officers, not a better mental health system, but truth and trust.”

Other reports released

The standard incident reports of the Chasse incident were released following the grand jury’s decision to not issue indictments. However, investigations by the bureau’s Internal Affairs Division often turn up more information.

In the city attorney’s motion to the court, the city claims that Internal Affairs reports are kept confidential as a matter of policy. The filing cites the privacy of officers and witnesses interviewed, and maintains that release of Internal Affairs reports would discourage people from being honest in future Internal Affairs investigations.

In reality, the city often releases such reports voluntarily in matters of great public interest, as called for by Oregon Public Records law.

Last month, the city attorney’s office voluntarily released the entire Internal Affairs investigation of the shooting of Dennis Lamar Young by police Lt. Jeff Kaer. It did so despite the threat of civil litigation by Young’s family.

And following the savage beating of a man by two off-duty cops outside a downtown nightclub in 2002, the city voluntarily released Internal Affairs reports that showed which Portland officers had tried to protect the perpetrators from a criminal investigation, and which officers did their jobs conscientiously.

Bureau managers sometimes release Internal Affairs reports because they feel “the public interest outweighs privacy interests, so we’re not going to fight (their release),” police spokesman Brian Schmautz said. He added that he has no opinion on the request for a protective order in the Chasse case.
Commissioners wonder

Asked about the request for a protective order, John Doussard, spokesman for Mayor Tom Potter, released the following statement:

“I can’t comment on the specifics of the Chasse case because it’s pending. But a ‘protective order’ is a routine legal step in these kinds of cases that both sides use, and it’s ultimately up to the judge to decide how or even if it will be used (by) the parties. The Mayor was not told by the City Attorney because there wasn’t a reason to tell him — he doesn’t micromanage pretrial legal maneuvers.”

Commissioners Sam Adams and Dan Saltzman did not return calls from the Portland Tribune regarding the case.

Commissioner Randy Leonard said that as long as the outcome of disciplinary proceedings is kept secret, he favors the release of internal probes when the public interest calls for it. As far as the Chasse protective order, Leonard said: “Yeah, that concerns me. I intend to ask questions about it.”

Commissioner Erik Sten said that he needs more information, and understands why the city might want to delay the release of the report. But generally speaking, “I think the public has the right to know what happened, particularly in a case this tragic,” he said.

Dan Handelman, a volunteer with Portland Copwatch, called the request for a protective order “stupid… . It makes them look like they’re trying to hide something.”

Friday, September 7, 2007

City Wants To Keep Chasse Probe Secret

from the Portland Mercury

It’s rumored that attorneys for the City of Portland are fighting in court to keep the Police Bureau’s internal affairs investigation into the death of James Chasse secret, saying they want to protect the privacy of the officers involved.

Tom Steenson, attorney for the Chasse family, said in a press release yesterday that a federal court hearing is scheduled for October 11, “to resolve disputes over the defendants’ production of documents in discovery.”

Sources close to the situation say the Police Bureau is refusing to release its internal affairs documents to Steenson, and that the hearing is scheduled to resolve questions of public disclosure. Nobody was in at the City, or at Steenson’s office, to return a call from Blogtown, but we’ll have more early next week.

Timing of the news is unfortunate—the anniversary of Chasse’s death is the Monday after next, and protests are already planned outside City Hall and the downtown Justice Center. Any efforts by the city to prevent complete transparency around Chasse’s death are bound to leave people asking what the city has to hide.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Remembering Chasse

from Portland Mercury

Protests Mark One-Year Anniversary

Activists are planning protests outside Portland's downtown Justice Center and at city hall on September 17 to mark the one-year anniversary of the controversial death in custody of James Chasse.

Chasse, a schizophrenic chased through the Pearl District by Portland police after urinating in the street, was tackled to the ground opposite the Bluehour restaurant on NW Everett. There, Chasse—who weighed 145 pounds and stood 5' 9"—was beaten and Tasered repeatedly in front of more than a dozen witnesses, then carted off to jail in a squad car, instead of to the hospital. He died just over an hour later, en route to the hospital after jail nurses told the cops he could not stay in a cell.

Members of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Portland, which has focused its advocacy on Chasse's death for the past year, met last Saturday to plan a "peaceful statement" at 4 pm outside city hall, and draft a letter to the mayor listing their unanswered questions.

"Is it safe for families of people with mental illness to call the police in an emergency, whether it be a psychiatric emergency or any other sort?" asked Jason Renaud of the MHA. "The other question which I think has gone unanswered is: What the hell happened? Don't we have policies, procedures, and a justice system that can resolve this? Don't we have a way to remove police officers from the force who do things like this?"

Sergeant Kyle Nice and Officer Christopher Humphreys, who were cleared of criminal wrongdoing related to Chasse's death by a grand jury, are still working for the Portland Police Bureau, while Sheriff's Deputy Brett Burton, also cleared, is still employed by Multnomah County. Meanwhile Chasse's family continues to pursue a civil lawsuit against the city.

A more radical all-day protest is also planned for September 17 by a group posting anonymously on activist website Indymedia. The group plans to set up shop at 8 am on SW 2nd and Main, directly opposite the cops' Central Precinct building, and to stay there all day.

"We want the cops to see us as they enter work that day, as they head out for street patrols, as they head out to lunch," wrote the organizers, on the website. "We will not be ignored. We demand justice. We will not live in fear." Efforts by the Mercury to contact the organizers of this protest were unsuccessful by press time.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Questions Want Answers

Friends and supporters of James Chasse want to know what happened to James Chasse - and why.

Together we will meet on September 17 at 4 PM on the sidewalk outside of City Hall to deliver a letter to Mayor Tom Potter listing our questions and concerns.

It was September 17, 2006 when James was attacked and beaten by law officers Kyle Nice, Christopher Humphrey and Brett Burton. James died after first responders ignored his injuries.

Read this web site. Send your questions about what happened to James Chasse to We will incorporate your question into our letter. Then help us deliver the letter to Mayor Potter on September 17.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Letter from IPR to Benjamin Haile

Download and read the letter from the Independent Police Review Division, an office of the City's Auditor's Office, to Benjamin Haile, attorney for Richard Prentice.

Prentice was arrested June 14 with the charge of Advertising In Streets. According to police, Prenctice used tape to attach a poster protesting the killing of James Chasse to a downtown building.

Prentice has filed a civil suit against the city for a variety of civil rights violations during his booking.

Charges against Prentice have been dropped.

Comment About Links to The Oregonian by the Blog Authors

Readers of this site and others may notice the absence of URL links to the original stories published in the Oregonian newspaper.

Despite being one of the most profitable newspapers in the nation, the Oregonian, along with other Advance Publication operations, runs an irresponsible web site.

Recently the web site - which probably has no connection to the Portland paper - decided to change all the URL addresses for it's news stories. This decision broke all the linkages - the direct connections - between this blog and Oregonian news stories about James Chasse.

The decision did not just effect our blog. All news story links to the Oregonian are broken.

We could recreate the links - a toilsome process - or recognize the irresponsible status of the Oregonian web site.

We've decided to retrieve and post the entire the news stories we need for this blog from the Oregonian archive, accessible with a Multnomah County library card through PORTALS or through the Multnomah County Library.

Panel to look at police complaint

from The Oregonian

Richard Prentice was arrested after posting a flier that criticized three officers

The Portland Police Bureau's internal affairs division will investigate whether police wrongly arrested and intimidated a North Portland man after he taped a flier to the federal courthouse calling three officers "murderers."

The bureau's oversight agency -- the Independent Police Review Division -- told the bureau in a letter dated Aug. 1 that 33-year-old Richard Prentice's complaint is worthy of further investigation.

Officer Matt Wells arrested Prentice on June 14 after Prentice taped a flier to the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. Wells seized Prentice's flier, which included the names and photographs of Portland police Officers Brett Burton, Kyle Nice and Christopher Humphreys. It read "WANTED . . . These SCUM BAGS killed an innocent man named Jim Chasse by beating him to death. They are still employed by the Portland police department."

Prentice said the two officers who drove him to Central Precinct berated him for criticizing police for the death of James P. Chasse Jr. Chasse, who had schizophrenia, died Sept. 17 from multiple rib fractures after police chased him and tackled him.

Once at Central Precinct, Prentice said two of the officers whom he named on the flier -- Nice and Humphreys -- entered his holding cell and confronted him about the flier.

Police charged Prentice with violating a city code "Advertising in Streets." Although the law is still on the books and police say they haven't been told not to use it, city leaders have expressed little confidence in its constitutionality. The Multnomah County district attorney's office declined to prosecute Prentice last month.

Benjamin Haile, Prentice's attorney, said he learned of the Independent Police Review's decision to ask the bureau to investigate in a letter he received Tuesday. He said the decision was vindication for his client.

Lauri Stewart, outreach coordinator for the oversight panel, said her agency asks Portland police to investigate about one-third of the roughly 800 complaints it receives on Portland police each year.

The bureau could determine Prentice's complaint is unfounded or it could determine the officers acted improperly and should be disciplined.