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What Happened to James Chasse: Police ordered to supply Chasse files

Friday, October 12, 2007

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.

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