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What Happened to James Chasse: Family Of James Chasse Jr. Files Federal Suit

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Family Of James Chasse Jr. Files Federal Suit


The family of the mentally ill man, James Chasse Jr, who died after being chased down and subdued by three police officers, filed suit in federal court Thursday.

Kristian Foden-Vencil spoke to their lawyer at a press conference this afternoon and joins us live in the studio.

Welcome Kristian.

Kristian Foden-Vencil: Thank you.

Eve Epstein: To bring us up to speed on this story Kristian. Just remind us what happened and what the family has alleged in its complaint.

Kristian: Back in the fall, Portland Police Officers noticed Chasse on a street in the inner Northwest.

They felt he was acting suspiciously and approached him. They said he then started to run and officers Christopher Humphreys, Kyle Nice and deputy sheriff Bret Burton gave chase.

Exactly what happened next is the subject of disagreement, but Chasse was wrestled to the ground with considerable force and he kept fighting -- at one point allegedly biting an officer. Two autopsies found several broken bones and multiple contusions.

Chasse was taken to jail and put in cell. Later someone noticed he was not doing well and he was driven to hospital. But it was too late.

In this complaint, the family throws the book at the police, alleging everything from deliberate indifference, to torture, discrimination, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Their lawyer, Tom Steenson, says a deliberate cover-up started immediately after Chasse had been subdued.

Tom Steenson: "Officer Humphreys publicly announced for paramedics and civilian witnesses to hear, that he had found cocaine' belonging to James. When in fact he knew what he had found and bagged as evidence was bread crumbs. Another police officer lied and falsely told civilian witnesses that James had 14 cocaine convictions. Humphreys, Nice, and Burton failed to disclose to the paramedics and other medical personnel that they had brutally assaulted James. And finally, Humphreys and other officers lied and told the public that James was a transient,' when they had his ID card and knew where he lived, and that he was using and on drugs. None of which was true."

Eve: In October last year, a Multnomah County grand jury unanimously found the officers were not criminally responsible for Chasse's death. The family has waited a while before filing the suit. Why the delay?

Kristian: The family says it was waiting to see what steps the city and the police were taking to address the incident. Indeed, with a copy of the lawsuit, the family released a list of six recommendations it wants the police to adopt. The recommendations were taken out of the so-called PARC' report, which the Portland Police Bureau commissioned in 2003.

Recommendations included the creation of an early warning system -- to identify officers who may have a problem with a high use of force. And to restrict the police to using deadly force only when they have probable cause' rather than reasonable suspicion,' which is a lower standard.

The lawsuit asks for both monetary damages and injunctive relief to force the city to adopt the recommendations.

Eve: I understand that as part of the family's own investigation, a second autopsy was conducted. What did it find, if anything?

Kristian: The family's autopsy found some additional injuries, which they say the coroner missed, and a number of uninjured bones that the coroner had said were damaged.

But I want to make it clear, that the family isn't saying they dispute the basic facts about what city officials say took place. Their attorney did want to point out, however, that Chasse could have been saved at several points after the initial arrest.

Tom Steenson: "Had he received medical treatment, had they intubated him, had they taken him to the hospital, the medical specialists, the trauma experts, all agree that he would have survived. No doubt about it. They believe probably at the jail, some 30 minutes, 45 minutes later, he still could have survived."

Eve: And what about the police, what are they saying about this?

Kristian: Well I spoke to Sergeant Brian Schmautz, of the Portland Police Bureau, and he told me they are unable to comment on ongoing lawsuits. But before the suit was filed, Portland's Mayor, Tom Potter, has expressed regret at the death of James Chasse, and has taken several steps to improve interaction between the police and people with mental illnesses.

Eve: Thank you Kristian.

Kristian: Thank You.

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