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What Happened to James Chasse: 2007-02-04

Friday, February 9, 2007

Chasse lawsuit calls for deadly force policy changes

from The Oregonian

A civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday by the family of a schizophrenic man who died in Portland police custody last fall seeks more than money: It demands wide-ranging policy changes designed to reduce excessive force by officers.

James P. Chasse, Jr., who suffered from schizophrenia, died from broad-based blunt force trauma to his chest after police struggled to take him into custody in the Pearl District on Sept. 17. His family wants the city to adopt a series of recommendations made since 2003 by a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that studied Portland's use of deadly force.

Their lawsuit seeks an amount of damages to be determined by a jury. But it also proposes to:
* Change the police bureau's foot-pursuit policy, saying officers have too much discretion in using violent punches and kicks despite the power of such blows to cause grave injury and death. The policy should be brought in line with the use of deadly force, prohibiting officers from taking people to the ground unless the person poses an immediate risk of death to the public.

* Change the police bureau's use of deadly force policy, which the Chasse family's attorney claims violates the U.S. Constitution.

* Create an independent citizen review commission to investigate deaths caused by police and in-custody deaths.

* Change police anti-discrimination policies to better protect people with mental illnesses and disabilities by requiring officers to treat them fairly.

* Create an early-warning system to identify police officers with high use-of-force rates and take appropriate action against them.
Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, said he would not comment on pending litigation.

Police officers told investigators that they thought Chasse, 42, was possibly on drugs after they saw him shuffling on a street corner and then possibly urinating behind a tree. Once they approached him, the officers said, Chasse ran. Two Portland officers and a Multnomah County deputy sheriff chased after him and knocked him to the ground. During a struggle to handcuff him, Chasse suffered multiple rib fractures, some of which punctured his left lung.

Chasse's family did not speak during a Thursday afternoon press conference.

The family's attorney, Tom Steenson, said the family will ask the federal judge overseeing their case to order the proposed changes if the bureau does not make them.

The lawsuit alleges that the officers used excessive force against Chasse and lied to the public about him, saying he was homeless and on drugs, in an effort to cover up their misdeeds, and officers failed to address the injuries that killed him.

Steenson also blasted the state Medical Examiner's office for missing several injuries to Chasse that a second autopsy found. And he criticized Multnomah County's grand jury review system, which has never resulted in the indictment of a police officer for using excessive force.

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.

Family files lawsuit in police-involved death

from Associated Press

Calling it a "tortured death," the family of a mentally ill Portland man who died in police custody filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday seeking to change the city's policy on the use of force.

The complaint seeks changes to limit the use deadly force and foot pursuits. It also seeks to establish an independent oversight panel for reviewing deaths in custody, along with an intervention system to monitor officers who use excessive force.

A request for damages for alleged civil rights violations and wrongful death would be determined at trial.

James P. Chasse Jr. died last September after he was arrested following a foot chase by officers who said they thought he was on drugs or drunk after urinating in public.

Chasse, 42, suffered from schizophrenia. During the arrest, he suffered broken ribs that caused massive internal bleeding and led to his death.

"He was a gentle and a kind man who was in good physical health ... but his life was brought to a tragic end," Tom Steenson, the attorney for the family, said at a news conference.

Spokesmen for the Portland Police Bureau and Mayor Tom Potter declined comment, citing city policy on pending lawsuits.

But John Doussard, spokesman for Potter, confirmed that $500,000 in funding the mayor had sought to improve police training for managing the mentally ill has been approved and training has begun. Potter publicly apologized to the Chasse family last October.

A grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing by the two Portland police officers and a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy.

But Steenson accused the three officers - Officer Christopher Humphreys, Sgt. Kyle Nice and Deputy Bret Burton - of "a deliberate cover up."

After realizing there were many witnesses, the officers told them that Chasse was on drugs, had been convicted on cocaine charges, was a transient and had no identification - "none of which was true," Steenson said.

Humphreys even said he had found cocaine on Chasse when he knew it was a bag of bread crumbs, Steenson said.

The attorney said Chasse was walking in the neighborhood where he lived on a Sunday afternoon, carrying a sandwich and some comic books in his backpack, when he was confronted by the three officers.

"He did not use drugs or alcohol and had committed no crime. No one had complained about his behavior. Nevertheless, without any provocation whatsoever, (the three officers) tackled James and smashed him face first into a concrete sidewalk and brutally assaulted him," Steenson said.

"Over the ensuing few minutes, and again without cause or provocation, James was repeatedly and viciously punched, struck, kicked and kneed in the head, the back, the ribs and the chest. He was also repeatedly Tasered," he said.

Eleven of 12 ribs in the left side of his chest along the back were fractured, leaving sharp edges that caused the bleeding, Steenson said.

But Chasse could have survived the injuries if he had received prompt medical attention from the officers or from the paramedics who were called to the scene, the family's attorney said.

But none of the officers, the ambulance crew or deputies at the jail where Chasse was taken after his arrest provided any medical assistance - "not any medical help whatsoever," Steenson said.

Chasse died while Humphreys and Burton were taking him to a hospital in a patrol car after jail deputies refused to accept him because he had gone into convulsions and stopped breathing, according to the complaint.

The family said an independent autopsy they requested found significant differences compared with the autopsy results provided by a state medical examiner - including that Chasse also suffered a broken shoulder and sternum, a major bone connected to the ribs.

Steenson noted those other injuries were not among the evidence presented to the grand jury that investigated the officers.

The lawsuit also names American Medical Response Northwest and "John Doe" firefighters and paramedics.

Massive lawsuit filed against city over death in police custody


The family of a mentally ill man who died in police custody announced a sweeping lawsuit Thursday against the city, county, police, medical and Tri-Met officials.

Officers confronted James Chasse in Northwest Portland in September after they thought he was acting erratically. They eventually used force to take him into custody, and he later died in a police car after being taken from a jail cell to the hospital.

A grand jury later found the officers involved not guilty of any crimes in Chasse’s death and the city promised new inquiries into training procedures to deal with the mentally ill on Portland streets.

His death sparked outcry from advocates for the mentally ill and demands for reform in police and city procedures.

Chasse’s father James Chasse, his mother Linda Gerber and brother Mark Chasse are all named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the City of Portland, police, firefighters, paramedics, Multnomah County sheriff’s, American Medical Response and Tri-Met -- which had transit officers on scene of the initial confrontation.

There was no damage amount specified in the suit, which said that would be determined at a trial.

The plaintiffs accuse defendants and specifically officers involved of crimes “so unreasonable and so arbitrary that it shocks the conscience.”

The suit claims defendants inflicted punishment, denied Chasse equal constitutional protection and discriminated against him because of his mental illness. They also said officials and the city were “indifferent” to Chasse’s death and negligent because of his medical care while in custody.

Plaintiffs claimed officers Kyle Nice, Bret Burton and Christopher Humphreys also conspired to cover up the alleged “assault” citing witness reports they said Chasse had cocaine on him -- when what was actually taken into evidence was a bag of bread crumbs.

The suit seeks a jury trial, economic and non-economic damages awarded, along with better training and police reviews.

Family of James Chasse files suit

from Willamette Week

The family of James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old schizophrenic man killed in police custody last year, filed suit in federal court today as their attorney called for overhauling a "system that allows brutality."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against the three Portland police officers who scuffled with Chasse, as well as the City of Portland, Multnomah County, TriMet, the American Medical Response ambulance service, and unnamed city and county officials, deputies and paramedics.

Chasse died Sept. 17 in the back seat of a police cruiser after his chest was crushed during a struggle with Portland Police officers Christopher Humphreys and Kyle Nice and Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy Brett Burton. Police say Chasse’s chest injuries probably occurred when Humphreys, who was chasing Chasse, fell on top of him or tackled him.

But the lawsuit alleges police assaulted Chasse without cause as he walked through the Northwest Portland neighborhood where he lived, "viciously" beating and tasering him. It also claims police and emergency workers ignored Chasse's medical needs and that the officers engaged in a cover-up.

The family's Portland attorney, Tom Steenson, said at an afternoon news conference that medical experts agree Chasse could have survived if he had received medical treatment instead of being taken to jail.

He said the case calls into question several issues that aren't named in the lawsuit. For instance, an autopsy peformed at the family's request revealed broken bones and injuries that weren't named in the medical examiner's report, he said.

Steeson blamed outdated police policies in part for Chasse's death. The lawsuit calls for an overhaul of police rules of engagement and the bureau's policy toward the mentally ill, as well as an independent panel to investigate police deaths and intervention against officers with high use-of-force rates.

"The No. 1 thing on the minds of this family is to get the city and Police Bureau to make these changes," Steenson said at the news conference, flanked by Chasse's father and pictures of the victim seated at home and playing with two dogs.

Steenson declined to say how much money the family hopes to gain in a settlement, or whether they would drop the suit if police policy changes.

Investigative records released in Chasse death

from the Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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