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What Happened to James Chasse: Complaints filed after man dies in custody

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Complaints filed after man dies in custody


Four days after a man died while in police custody, questions are being raised about whether officers used too much force when arresting him.

James Chasse, 42, died Sept. 17 while police were transporting him to a local hospital. The cause of his death has not yet been released, pending the results of toxicology tests, which are expected in a few days.

Since then, three witnesses have filed complaints, saying two Portland police officers and a Multnomah County Sheriff's Office deputy got into a violent confrontation with Chasse just minutes before he died in their car.

"We are aware of the complaints that citizens have filed with the Independent Police Review Division," Chief Rosie Sizer said in a statement released to the media Thursday. "As with any death of an individual that occurs in police custody, we want to ensure a thorough investigation is completed. Once that occurs, the case will go to the Grand Jury and then the entire case will be made available through the public records process."

Police say Chasse fought them violently and even injured one of the officers by biting him. One of the witnesses who filed a complaint, Randall Stuart, did not want to talk to KATU News when we tried to ask him questions, but in the complaint he said Chasse was "smashed down quite hard" and kicked in the head until he was unconscious. "He was out and turning a horrible color gray," the complaint reads.

Another witness who filed a complaint went even further, saying "they then hogtied him and laughed about the incident with each other as the man lay there, unbreathing and probably dead."

However, police have a different version of events, which they explained in a news release issued to the media on Thursday:
* Police first noticed Chasse at Northwest 18th Avenue and Northwest Everett Street. He was acting in a bizarre manner as if he was under the influence of intoxicants or was suffering from a mental disorder.
* Chasse saw the officers and took off.
* The officers caught up with him again in the 1300 block of Northwest Everett Street. Based on his body language, it appeared he was urinating on the street.
* The officers approached Chasse, but he ran as soon as he saw them. The officers chased him on foot.
* Police caught up with him and one of the officers pushed Chasse in the back with his forearm, causing the man to stumble to the ground. Chasse then fought violently with the officers as they tried to take him into custody and even bit one of them and tried to bite another.
* One of the officers used his high-voltage stun gun, but it had no effect on Chasse.
* After being taken into custody, officers requested medical attention because Chasse appeared to have lost consciousness.
* An ambulance crew and Portland Fire Bureau personnel responded to the scene, evaluated Chasse and determined his vital signs were all normal. They relayed the information to the arresting officers, who then transported Chasse to the Multnomah County Detention Center to lodge him on the charges of Assaulting a Public Safety Officer and Resisting Arrest.
* While at the booking facility, Chasse was evaluated by the nursing staff, who determined he should receive further medical evaluation at a hospital prior to being accepted for booking.
* At some point during the transport, Chasse appeared to lose consciousness. The transporting officers immediately requested that medical personnel respond to Northeast 33rd Avenue and Northeast Clackamas Street.
* The officers tried to resuscitate Chasse and when medical personnel arrived, they took over the efforts. Chasse was later pronounced dead after arriving at a local hospital.

Police did check area businesses for surveillance video, but came up empty-handed. However, several people did snap cell phone pictures of the incident and police are talking to them. Police also interviewed people who were eating at a nearby restaurant.

Whether the two officers and deputy handled the situation correctly will be up to a Grand Jury. That is expected to take place next week. Meantime, the three are on paid leave while the investigation gets under way.

Investigators do want to hear from anyone who had contact with Chasse, or who has knowledge of his actions prior to his contact with the police. If you have information, you are urged to contact Detective Lynn Courtney at (503) 823-0451 or Detective Jon Rhodes at (503) 823-0459.

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