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What Happened to James Chasse: 2007-10-14

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.