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What Happened to James Chasse

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Chasse Information at New Web Site

Everything made publicly available about what happened to James Chasse until September 2008 is archived at this web site.

It will not be taken down. Email about broken links or for information about the site. Because of spam, no further comments are collected on this site.

For information about what happened to James Chasse which we have accumulated since September 2008, see the web site for the Mental Health Association of Portland.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Crisis training takes some cues from Memphis

Portland program requires all street cops to be taught intervention techniques
From the Portland Tribune, September 11 2008

In Memphis, as in Portland, change started with a death.

In Portland, two years ago, the death of 42-year-old schizophrenic James Chasse Jr. at the hands of Portland police prompted public outcry for change in the way officers here deal with people suffering mental illness.

In Memphis, Tenn., a similar death 20 years ago — of a 27-year-old schizophrenic man who was shot by police after he brandished a knife — was the beginning not only of change for the Memphis police department, but for police throughout the country.

The outcry from the Memphis mental health community led the Memphis police department, in partnership with local mental health activists, to form the nation’s first Crisis Intervention Training program. It’s a program similar to one that, after Chasse’s death, Portland police have turned to as their primary response to the local call for change.

But the evolving Portland program is significantly different from the one in Memphis — for the better, according to some, and for the worse, according to others. The critics say the police don’t have adequate backup in their new efforts to help the mentally ill.

Crisis Intervention Training is based on 40 hours of classroom work designed to teach police officers to recognize the signs of mental illness in people they are dealing with, and then to use social worker techniques to defuse situations that might otherwise lead to use of force.

By the end of 2008, Portland will be the largest city in the country to have required all its street officers to be trained in crisis intervention.

Nevertheless, many experts say that Portland’s program, as currently configured, never will achieve the success that Memphis has had.

Memphis effort multipronged

According to Memphis officials, crisis intervention training is only one part of their overall solution, which includes a designated place for police to take people with uncontrolled mental illness, and a partnership between police and local mental health advocacy organizations.

“I believe the Memphis model is the gold standard,” says Bradley Cobb, executive director of the Memphis chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “I believe it is a lifesaver.”

A 2000 analysis of three cities and how their police responded to incidents involving people with mental illness showed that Memphis police rarely ended up arresting subjects with mental illness — only about two out of every 100 they dealt with on the street.

In some cities, as many as 20 percent or 30 percent of people with mental illness are taken to jail. In Memphis, a city comparable in size to Portland, almost all are directed into mental health care rather than the criminal justice system — an outcome mental health and police officials agree is preferable.

Departments in Memphis and Portland do not track police use of force involving people with mental illness. But Memphis police say they’ve got a pretty good idea that their use of force dropped when they instituted crisis intervention.

According to Sam Cochran, who has coordinated the crisis intervention program for Memphis police since its inception, in the first three years after the program was instituted, injuries suffered by police officers during crisis events dropped by more than 80 percent.

“If you’re seeing where officers are not getting hurt, you can pretty much conclude that (citizens) are not getting hurt,” Cochran says.

But the program being developed in Portland differs from the Memphis model in three significant ways.

All Portland street cops trained

In Memphis, not all officers are trained in crisis intervention, and that is intentional. In fact, Cobb says, after early successes, the Memphis chief of police told him he wanted to train all of the city’s officers, and Cobb says he told the chief that wouldn’t be a good idea.

Cobb says that — similar to a police agency’s special tactics team — not all officers are qualified to routinely deal with people suffering mental illness.

“It’s more than just training,” Cobb says. “You can get training anywhere. It depends on the officer. It really has to come from the heart.”

In Memphis, police officers volunteer to be trained in crisis intervention, and then are screened, so only those selected get to wear the crisis intervention badge and are in charge on calls involving people showing signs of uncontrolled mental illness.

Before Chasse’s death, about 250 Portland police had received crisis intervention training, following the Memphis model. Now, Portland is training all its street level officers. And that’s a good idea, says Jason Renaud, a longtime Portland mental health activist and former executive director of the Multnomah County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“They’re wrong,” Renaud says of Memphis. “I’m convinced James Chasse proves that. The people who took crisis intervention in the past (in Portland) were looking for promotions, or were people already sensitized to the issue (of mental illness) and knew it was useful. It’s the folks who think it’s not useful training who benefit the most from it.”

Training helps alliance form

Another difference between crisis intervention training in Memphis and in Portland is the training itself. In Memphis, mental health advocates take part in the classes, from describing their own experiences with police to role-playing.

Cobb says that approach has forced the mental health community and police officers into what has become a strong alliance. “They (mental health activists) feel they have ownership in this program because they help do it,” Cobb says.

Portland is training more than 500 officers. But Liesbeth Gerritsen, a crisis counselor hired by the city to coordinate its crisis intervention training, said that while the city once used mental health advocates in its training, it was unable to find enough advocates to continue participating.

Instead she uses a videotape of interviews with local advocates.

Still, even with an entire street level force trained in crisis intervention, Portland’s police are at a disadvantage in dealing with the mentally ill because of the city’s lack of a dedicated mental health triage facility, according to Cobb and Cochran.

Portland police don’t have a place to take people once they have them in custody — something Cochran, in charge of Memphis’ program for 20 years, calls “a tragedy.”

“You’re undermining crisis intervention training,” he says.

In Memphis, crisis intervention officers are trained to take subjects they suspect of having out-of-control mental illness to a special center set up at the University of Tennessee medical center. The officers are able to drop the subjects off there and leave within minutes, and by agreement with the city, no drop-offs are refused.

In Portland, police officers’ choices are usually jail or one of the local hospital’s overcrowded emergency departments, where the officers cannot leave until physicians have signed off on a transfer.

That process often takes hours, according to police officials. That makes dropping them off at jail a much more appealing alternative, even if officers know people won’t get the help they need.
Assessment center lacking

Multnomah County officials have plans for a mental health crisis and assessment center to be located in Northeast Portland, but details and funding have not yet been worked out. The facility, if funded, could be years away from opening.

Portland police get calls about people whose primary problem appears to be mental illness about 360 times a year, according to bureau statistics.

But Gerritsen says the collapse of the Multnomah County mental health system, from the near bankruptcy of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, the county’s primary provider of mental health services, to inadequate state funding for psychiatric services for the poor, means there are more Portlanders with untreated mental illness than ever.

Add in the lack of an assessment center, and that means there probably will be another James Chasse event in Portland — despite improved policing.

Still, the new system appears to be working so far. Renaud says he hasn’t heard a complaint about police abusing someone with mental illness in at least six months — and those complaints used to come in regularly, he says.

“Portland has done a terrific job at getting prepared for the next experience,” Renaud says. “Perhaps the next experience has already happened and the crisis intervention training intervened and no one was hurt or killed.”

Some plans turned into action

In the wake of James Chasse Jr.’s death, Mayor Tom Potter launched a Mental Health and Public Safety Initiative, involving regular meetings by a wide variety of mental health providers, county and city officials, and advocates, that produced a 10-page action plan involving 14 separate recommendations.

Two years later, some have become reality and some haven’t.

Based on one recommendation, the Portland Police Bureau and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office have trained officers and law enforcement deputies with special Crisis Intervention Training classes. To address another recommendation, the county has increased its funding for Project Respond, a nonprofit group that specializes in crisis intervention with the mentally ill.

However, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners did not fund mental health screening nurses for the jail booking area, and local jurisdictions have not produced funding for a new mental health coordination and oversight body.

The county is making progress toward setting up a 16-bed mental health crisis and assessment center, so police don’t have to take the mentally ill to jail.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Julie Frantz and county Community Health Services Director Joanne Fuller chair the committee that was supposed to oversee the implementation of the initiative’s recommendations. The committee has shifted its focus to setting up a “mental health court” intended to divert the mentally ill from the criminal justice system.

Why did James Chasse die?

From the Portland Tribune, September 11 2008

Police tactics and handling of mentally ill still being challenged two years after man’s violent death

James Chasse Jr. was a gentle but troubled soul in his youth. In 1980, he fronted a local band, the Psychedelic Unknowns. Over the next two decades, Chasse descended into schizophrenia until he was taken into police custody on Sept. 17, 2006, and died a short time later.

Almost two years ago, on a late sunny September afternoon, near the corner of Northwest 18th Avenue and Everett Street, a gaunt, 145-pound man behaving erratically came to the attention of Portland Police officers and one Multnomah County sheriff’s deputy.

He ran. They chased him. And then, somehow, he ended up with at least 26 broken and shattered bones in his rib cage and a punctured left lung. Less than two hours after the start of the encounter, after being taken to the jail, then toward the hospital, the man died in the back seat of a police car, at the age of 42.

Known to his many Portland friends as “Jim-Jim,” James Chasse Jr. had been a gentle but troubled kid who became a singer in local punk bands before descending into schizophrenia.

Since his death Sept. 17, 2006, he has become both a symbol and a rallying cry for mental health advocates as well as police critics, while for police he is viewed as yet more evidence that the mentally ill should be cared for by caseworkers, not cops.

But despite the tremendous attention given to Chasse’s death, the investigations, and a lawsuit filed by his family, there’s still uncertainty about how and why James “Jim Jim” Chasse died. His death remains an unsolved whodunit — or maybe, a whatdunit.

Conflicting accounts from those involved, officers contradicting the official story, and attacks on the state medical examiner’s autopsy have hung large question marks over Chasse’s death. And none of the officers who fought with him themselves admit to punching, elbowing, kneeing, kicking, tackling or otherwise making contact with Chasse with anything close to enough force to explain his injuries.

An old friend of Chasse’s, Jason Renaud, a longtime activist and volunteer with the Mental Health Association of Portland, says “the unanswered questions” about Chasse’s death have made his case almost a parable in the mental health community. “Everybody knows the case, every clinician, every patient,” he said.

Adding to the continuing questions, the city of Portland has persuaded a judge to keep secret key public records until the federal lawsuit filed by Chasse’s family either goes to trial next February, or is settled.

While the Portland Police Bureau has released records of a two-week criminal investigation into Chasse’s death, a nearly two-year internal affairs investigation will remain secret. A spokesman for Portland Mayor Tom Potter called that confidentiality a “routine legal step.”

As a result, the main source of new information concerning Chasse’s death has been his family members’ lawsuit and their lawyer, Tom Steenson, a civil-rights specialist with a reputation as a mild-mannered legal pit bull.

Players in Chasse’s death

The family’s disclosures, combined with public records and other information, give a glimpse into the various players who had a role, or may have had a role, in James Chasse’s death. Here are the details on those players:

• Cop No. 1 — Portland Police officer Christopher Humphreys

Several eyewitnesses, including a fellow cop, reported that Portland Police officer Christopher Humphreys tackled Chasse and fell on him. However, Humphreys denied it, saying he pushed Chasse, then flew over him.

Police officials say Humphreys forgot about landing on Chasse due to the excitement, and contend it was mainly that impact — not the ensuing fracas — that led to Chasse’s many broken ribs and other bones.

The State Medical Examiner, Karen Gunson, found that Chasse died of “broad-based blunt force trauma to his chest.” A second autopsy commissioned by the family, concluded that his injuries were from a beating.

• Cop No. 2 — Portland Police Sgt. Kyle Nice

Portland Police Sgt. Kyle Nice joined in the fight to subdue Chasse, who according to police and civilian eyewitnesses, was resisting vigorously. According to a police timeline, Nice called for an ambulance “for an unconscious male” about five minutes after the initial contact with Chasse.

Minutes later, medics from American Medical Response, the company that holds the county contract on emergency ambulance services, arrived.

Although the bureau maintains the medics cleared Chasse to be taken to jail rather than the hospital, Nice, when interviewed by detectives, suggested that the decision was his. He said the medics asked, “Do you want him transported?” and that he replied, “No, we have criminal charges. He’ll be going to jail.”

• Ambulance crew — American Medical Response

AMR’s medics said they found Chasse’s vital signs to be normal. They also reported Chasse fought them as they tried to render aid. Steenson, however, has suggested that there’s no way Chasse could have suffered the injuries documented by the state’s autopsy — let alone the additional ones found by the family’s autopsy — and still have normal vital signs.

The family’s lawsuit accuses the AMR medics of failing to do a complete medical exam.

• Jail medical staff

Although, according to the police bureau, the AMR medics felt Chasse was in good enough shape to go to jail, the nurses at the downtown Multnomah County Detention Center did not agree. Looking at him through the window of a separation cell, they told the officers to take him to the hospital, causing the officers to drive him toward Portland Adventist in outer Southeast Portland.

The lawsuit faults the jail nurses for not attending to Chasse in jail. However, a corrections grand jury later that year laid the blame elsewhere, saying the officers failed to inform the jail nurses of the extent of Chasse’s injuries.

• The system — the county’s mental health system

In the wake of Chasse’s death, Potter and Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer both said the county’s frayed mental health system should bear part of the responsibility.

According to a police report, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare documents show that on Aug. 17, 2006, and Sept. 8, 2006, Chasse’s mental state was worsening and hospitalization was called for.

On Sept. 15, 2006, two days before Chasse’s death, a caseworker accompanied by a police officer conducted a welfare check at his apartment at Northwest Broadway near West Burnside Street, intending to try to put a mental- health hold on Chasse, only to have Chasse flee when he saw the officer.

• The mayor and the police chief — Potter and Sizer

In the wake of Chasse’s death, Potter said Sizer told him the officers who arrested Chasse were under pressure to reduce public drunkenness and other public antisocial activities. The family’s lawsuit faults a variety of city policies, including what it calls an unwritten one of trying to remove the mentally ill from downtown.

Finally, it claims that Portland city officials should have known that Humphreys had a history of excessive force and misconduct. After Chasse’s death, a Portland Tribune public records request showed that Humphreys was one of the most prolific users of force in the police bureau, with 78 reported incidents in his seven years on the force.

Though critics claim a variety of breakdowns and misconduct led to Chasse’s death, a federal court hearing in June suggested his family’s lawsuit faces tough odds.

There, in the federal courthouse downtown, Steenson, wearing a dark suit, sat alone at one table while his four opposing lawyers —one for the county, two for the city and one for AMR — sat at two others.

Judge Garr King, a former Multnomah County prosecutor, was openly skeptical of some of Steenson’s legal arguments, and ruled against him by directing that the case be split into two. One trial will involve the officers and the other will consider whether city policies were to blame. Legal observers say the ruling will make the case more difficult for the family to win.

Renaud, however, thinks the family has a strong case. “They are very determined,” he said. “They’re not going to settle. So it’s going to be public, and it’s going to be ugly.”

EXTRA - What Happened to James Chasse

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Judge Orders Chasse Trial Split In Two

from the Portland Mercury, June 4, 2008

A Federal Judge has ordered that the James Chasse jr. trial be split in two this morning, between the individual police officers and the City of Portland, in a move that could drastically affect the outcome of the case.

Chasse Family Attorney Tom Steenson: Determined before court today…

Federal Judge Garr King this morning approved the city’s motion to bifurcate the case, splitting it into two trials, one to decide whether Officer Christopher Humphreys, Sergeant Kyle Nice, and Sheriff’s Deputy Brett Burton were liable for Chasse’s death, and one to decide whether the city, (and also the county, and American Medical Response, the ambulance firm) were responsible for Chasse’s death by failing to adequately train and supervise those officers. There’s lengthy analysis after the jump.

While the city and county will end up paying for damages in both trials, the decision to split the case in two is controversial, since Steenson has been arguing all along that the city and its cops were dually responsible for what happened.

Importantly, Judge King granted the motion to bifurcate the case based on the city's assurance that it will not rely on a "qualified immunity" defense. In other words, Officers Humphreys, Nice and Burton, do not plan to argue that they are immune from prosecution because the law, and the city's policies, did not explicitly prohibit them from handling Chasse the way they did. Often, police officers use the qualified immunity defense to avoid prosecution in cases like these. For example, a boiled-down qualified immunity defense is: "You didn't tell me I couldn't hit him in the head with my fist."

It's likely that the city would prefer to split the cases in two so that Steenson is less able to show a jury that the officers involved are representative of the systemic failure of the police bureau to train and adequately supervise its officers. Strategically, it makes the case harder for Steenson to win by breaking it down into smaller, less emotionally loaded chunks. But waiving the qualified immunity defense also places the individual officers at higher risk of being found liable for what happened in the first trial.

Evidently the city feels it has a pretty strong case.

Judge King also denied the city's motion for summary judgment to dismiss injunctive relief in the case today. Essentially, the city was arguing that if it is found guilty of causing Chasse's death through lack of proper procedures, by, for example, ignoring one of the key recommendations of the 2004 Parc Report to raise the level of impact strikes to the head, sternum and ribs to "deadly force" level, it shouldn't have to do anything to change its policies and procedures after the trial. Judge King said it's way too early to tell.

Chasse's father, brother, and mother were in court today. So was Sheriff's Deputy Brett Burton.

Chasse's father, James Senior: Walks into court this morning...

Before court this morning, Steenson said: "The Chasse family has been very committed to seeing that the city makes changes to its policies and procedures." On the bifurcation, he said the city and individuals' responsibility "should not be separate," and he is likely to be disappointed by today's outcome.

The case continues. Currently a trial date is set for September 2009, although Judge King this morning talked about moving for an earlier trial, possibly in early 2009. You can also find out more about the case here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Familiar Face to Sue City After Cops Bust Down Door

From Willamette Week, May 27, 2008

A Portland State University student who's been a persistent headache for local cops is back in action.

Richard Prentice, 34, gave notice to the city last Friday that he intends to sue for $10,000 after police allegedly broke down his door without a warrant.

"The whole apartment was shaking," Prentice tells WWire. "They said, 'we're coming in no matter what.' "

Prentice says the incident happened in part as retaliation by police for his role in a well-publicized incident June 14, 2007. Prentice was arrested that evening while taping posters to the wall of the federal courthouse downtown that accused officers of murdering James Chasse Jr., a schizophrenic who died in police custody in 2006.

Prentice told reporters he was intimidated by officers in his cell after he was arrested that evening. He notified the city of his intent to sue over that incident, but a lawsuit has not yet been launched.

In his latest court filing, Prentice says he also plans to sue after police responded Feb. 12 to a neighbor's noise complaint at his apartment at 3110 SW 13th Ave. He says police broke down his door and arrested him. His trial for disorderly conduct is scheduled for June 2 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Prentice says he has no doubt his latest arrest was connected with his poster incident last year. "They know who I am. They don't like me," he says.

The police and the city attorney's office do not comment on pending lawsuits.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

‘Alien Boy’ makes guest appearance in Portland lawsuit

From the Portland Mercury, May 17, 2008

City attorneys say Chasse film could stoke hostility against police officers

“Alien Boy,” a local documentary about a schizophrenic man who died in police custody in 2006 has been dragged into a legal tug-of-war between the victim’s family and the city of Portland.

Portland filmmaker Brian Lindstrom has only just begun shooting the project, which focuses on the life and death of James Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old Old Town resident who succumbed to blunt-force trauma after being tackled and tazered by police officers outside the upscale Pearl District restaurant Bluehour.

But city attorneys say the film, together with continued media scrutiny into the episode, could stoke hostility toward the officers involved and make it impossible for them to get a fair trial in the civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Chasse family in U.S. District Court.

At stake is a gag order imposed in October by Judge Dennis Hubel, who sealed key documents in the case, including an internal police bureau investigation; Independent Police Review records; records of previous disciplinary action against the officers; cell phone records; and medical records.

Lawyers for the Chasse family and the news media (including the Portland Tribune) have asked the judge to release those documents; lawyers representing the city have tried to keep them under wraps.

As long as the order remains in place, it remains unclear what information the documents contain. But city lawyers now argue that the documents could turn public opinion against the officers, even if they are ultimately withheld from a jury.

“Releasing irrelevant information, which is inadmissible at trial, could prejudice defendants by resulting in hostility towards them,” wrote Deputy City Attorneys James G Rice and David A Landrum in a May 6 court brief. “City defendants’ concern about potential hostility due to dissemination of irrelevant discovery material is exacerbated by the media scrutiny of Mr. Chasse’s death, including the documentary film, ‘Alien Boy,’ being made about Mr. Chasse.”

The brief was filed in response to a motion by Tom Steenson, the Chasse family’s lawyer, requesting that the documents be unsealed. Steenson had no comment about the motion, the lawsuit or the film.

Deadly encounter in the Pearl District

The deadly encounter took place on Sept. 17, 2006, when Portland police officers saw Chasse walking down Northwest Everett Street near the I-405 overpass. According to published accounts, the officers believed Chasse was “acting odd” and suspected him of urinating against a tree. They followed him for several blocks, catching up with him near the intersection of Northwest 13th Avenue, where they ordered him to halt. Instead, Chasse attempted to run away, prompting Officer Christopher Humphreys to knock him to the ground.

In the ensuing melee, Chasse was tackled, tazered, punched, kicked and hogtied as he struggled desperately against Humphreys, police Sgt. Kyle Nice and Multnomah County sheriff’s Deputy Brett Burton.

The altercation occurred near Bluehour, where several patrons dining al fresco — including developer Homer Williams — witnessed the struggle.

Chasse died in the back seat of a police cruiser of the injuries sustained in the encounter, which included a punctured lung, 16 broken ribs and multiple contusions.

The Multnomah County medical examiner ruled that Chasse died of blunt-force trauma to the chest, but declared the death “accidental.” A grand jury later cleared the officers of criminal wrongdoing.

The family, however, believes Chasse was beaten to death.

Documentary dragged into hall of mirrors

The Chasse case has become a flashpoint in the ongoing debate about police brutality and the larger issue of how police officers should approach people with mental illness, who sometimes react in unexpected ways, and whose symptoms may mislead officers into thinking they are drunk or high.

Chasse, who was also known as “Jim-Jim,” was a well-known figure in the Portland music scene who lived independently in an Old Town apartment building, and had no criminal history.

It was with the aim of rendering a more complete, three-dimensional portrait of Chasse, that director Brian Lindstrom embarked on “Alien Boy.” His last film, “Finding Normal,” a documentary about recovering addicts in Portland, won wide praise for its sensitive approach and has been screened in City Hall.

Other contributors to “Alien Boy” include reporter Matt Davis of the Portland Mercury, who broke crucial elements of the story; and advocate Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland, who knew Chasse in high school.

The film’s title comes from a song written about Chasse in 1979 by his friend, Greg Sage, lead singer of the seminal Portland punk band, the Wipers.

Keeping documents from the public

Initially, filmmakers simply wanted to shoot a film about the tragedy. But now the project in being dragged into the legal battle.

“We’re disappointed, but not surprised,” says Renaud. “The city is trying to use the film as a rationale to keep these documents from the public.”

Renaud agreed that the film’s viewers might walk away from the theater believing that the officers involved in the incident were responsible for Chasse’s death. But, he said, the vast majority of potential jurors were unlikely ever to see the film; and those who were swayed by it would be excluded from the jury pool by the city’s lawyers.

No date has been set for arguments on whether the documents should be released.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Portland police, firefighters unions mostly sitting out politics this year

The groups say they're frustrated with a general lack of respect from City Hall
From The Oregonian, April 9, 2008

Most election years, Portland's police and firefighters help play kingmaker, giving thousands of dollars and priceless get-out-the-vote help to a slate of carefully chosen candidates. This year, however, they're largely sitting it out.

They're fed up with the guys who currently occupy City Hall and frustrated by what they say is a general sense of disrespect.

For certain candidates, it's a real blow. Symbolically, what's better than appearing in a campaign ad or flier next to a firetruck? Practically, what candidate can't use the telephone banks and lawn sign parties both unions are well-known for?

"Not getting involved represents a dramatic response for both of our unions," said Robert King, a Portland detective and president of the Portland Police Association. "Part of what it indicates is that we would both like to see more support out of the people in leadership positions than what we've gotten. The people who work in public safety in this city do not feel respected or heard."

King's more than 1,000 members decided to endorse Nick Fish, Amanda Fritz and Commissioner Randy Leonard in the three city commissioner campaigns. They're staying mum in the race to replace Mayor Tom Potter, the first time in years they've chosen neutrality.

The cops say they've spent the past four years feeling scrutinized and painted as thugs by city leaders.

They point to the outraged responses among elected officials to the death of a mentally ill man named James Chasse Jr. in police custody in 2006, to the City Council's decision to end Portland's drug- and prostitution-free zones, to Potter's decision to fire a respected lieutenant in an on-duty shooting last year even though Chief Rosie Sizer recommended a lesser punishment.

"In this election, we really are hoping for a change," King said. "We hope for a group of people who are more understanding of what we're doing, who are more likely to look at the good work that so many of us do every day.

"In the mayor's race at least, it just seems like the best way to ensure that is to stay neutral."

Both major candidates for mayor, City Commissioner Sam Adams and travel business owner Sho Dozono, sat through endorsement interviews with the police, and King said there were things that union leaders liked about both of them. There are also things they worry about.

Adams has suggested that if elected, he might give control of the Police Bureau to someone else -- perhaps Leonard, a retired firefighter, something that intrigues union leaders. Adams has worked hard to be a friend to labor during his first term on the City Council, including working to stop Wal-Mart, famously anti-union, from building in Portland and devoting one part-time staff position to a labor relations expert.

But Adams can be abrasive and stubborn, as the union leaders know from watching him operate for more than a dozen years, during his time as a city commissioner and the decade he spent as Mayor Vera Katz's chief of staff.

Dozono has generally been on the pro-cop side of downtown safety issues as a leader in the Portland Business Alliance and its predecessors. But he's also new to government -- something of an unknown quantity, in other words -- and won the endorsement of Potter, the union's public enemy No. 1.

There's a certain irony there: Potter, after all, was a career police officer and retired as Portland police chief in 1992. Yet he was never beloved during his days in uniform and has made even fewer friends as mayor.

Four years ago, the police union endorsed Potter's opponent, Jim Francesconi, although the union rescinded that after Francesconi ran a radio spot criticizing Potter -- and, union members thought, the police as well -- for his handling of a disciplinary case.

Officers feel as if they've spent four years paying for the original Francesconi nod, King said.

Portland firefighters have a more specific grievance: They want a healthy raise.

Last year, the union's 680 members elected a slate of new leaders who ran on a promise to get them more money. The problem: City leaders have changed their approach to bargaining and say they've already conceded a lot in trying to get all the city's unions on the same contract schedule.

The new leaders among Portland's firefighters weren't part of those meetings and say their members have been underpaid for years compared with other departments in Oregon and elsewhere. At various points over months of negotiations, they've argued for a 3.5 percent, across-the-board pay increase -- on top of an annual cost of living increase -- a shorter workweek and higher overtime pay. The city has offered smaller raises and bonus pay for officers during shifts spent operating heavy machinery.

But the two sides haven't been able to craft a contract, and things have grown tense. The city and the union seem headed toward arbitration this summer.

So, the union's leaders opted not to endorse anyone this year. What, they decided, is the point? "There's really no reason we're going to arbitration except for poor communication," said Ken Burns, the union president. "We think, quite frankly, that's a commissioner's job."

Burns and his colleagues are even on the outs with Leonard, a former firefighter who ran the union before entering politics. Leonard said his endorsement interview with union leaders focused solely on the details of the contract and ended with both the candidate and his questioners feeling angry and insulted.

How will it end? Both unions still have plenty of time to change their collective minds.

In the meantime, the two mayoral candidates bear the stamp of approval from other labor unions: Adams got the nod from the Northwest Council of Laborers, and Dozono has the endorsement from the Carpenters Union Local 247.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Commitment Issues: Chasse Death Cited in Involuntary Detention

From the Portland Mercury, March 20, 2008

Multnomah County's commitment court ruled at the end of 2006 that an allegedly mentally ill woman should be locked in a psychiatric hospital, because it would be safer than wandering the streets like James Chasse — where the person risked being "beaten to death" by cops, according to the judge.

The Oregon State Appeals Court overturned the woman's involuntary commitment last Wednesday, March 12—and, in the process, revealed the judge's statements—saying Judge Lewis B. Lawrence (pictured) was wrong to draw the conclusion that the woman "was a danger to herself because some officer, at some unknown point in the future, might kill or harm her."

The woman, who was not named under commitment statutes designed to protect her confidentiality, had fought with police when she was originally taken into custody on a mental health hold.

Referring to this, the commitment court took "absolute judicial notice" of the fact that "fighting with police... is certainly something that puts mentally ill people at risk of death or serious physical injury," according to the appeals court verdict.

"The court commented on the then-recent death of James Chasse, stating that Chasse, an unarmed mentally ill person, 'was confronted by police, and he was beaten to death,'" the appeals court verdict continues.

Significantly, the commitment court took "absolute judicial notice" of Chasse's having been "beaten to death." In legal terms, a judge is only supposed to take judicial notice of a fact when it is obvious and undisputed.

Chasse, a schizophrenic, died following an altercation with police officers and sheriff's deputies on the corner of NW 13th and Everett on September 17, 2006, though the exact circumstances of his death are mysterious. His family is continuing to pursue a lawsuit against the City of Portland, Multnomah County, and the ambulance firm American Medical Response, who cleared Chasse for transport to jail.

Commitment verdicts are sealed from public scrutiny once they are made, unless they are overturned at appeal. However, the appeals court has overturned 23 commitments in Multnomah County since December 2006, either because the commitment court had insufficient evidence to commit the person, or because procedures weren't followed.

In one case, a commitment was overturned because it was held "in the hallway of a hospital while appellant was naked in a hospital room, in the midst of a medical crisis, and unable to hear or participate meaningfully in the entire proceeding," according to the appeals court verdict.

Usually, a person is ruled a danger to themselves or others because of, for example, repeated suicide attempts, thinking bleach is a magic drink sent from heaven, carrying a knife around and believing they are on a divine quest, or believing they are impervious to gunfire.

Simply having a tendency to fight with police isn't sufficient, says the appeals court, no matter how dangerous a judge may believe the police to be.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Policing the Mentally Ill

From, March 18. 2008

LISTEN TO "Policing the Mentally Ill" (24MB MP3)

In September of 2006, a schizophrenic man named James Chasse died in police custody, sending shockwaves throughout Portland and the state. At the time, Mayor Potter promised an overhaul of the system that failed Chasse.

A year and a half later, the Mental Health Association of Portland is working on a documentary to make sure we never forget James Chasse, and Portland police are well into a training program designed to help avoid any repeat incidents. The Crisis Intervention Training program, which used to be voluntary, is now required for all current officers and a new law this year made this sort of training mandatory for all new police officers statewide.

Is this enough? What else needs to be done to ensure the inevitable interactions between law enforcement and the mentally ill are as positive as possible?


* Jason Renaud: Volunteer with Mental Health Association of Portland and former executive director for local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapters
* Raul Ramirez: Executive Director of the Oregon State Sheriff's Association
* David Zeiss: Coordinator of White Bird Clinic's "Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets" (CAHOOTS) program

Friday, March 14, 2008

Report faults jail care

County memo says two in-custody deaths will not be charged as homicides

From The Portland Tribune

A 43-year-old man told nurses he had chest pain. He received anti-anxiety medication, only to die of a heart attack.

A 36-year-old woman told nurses she had pneumonia – and that her spleen had been removed, making the disease particularly dangerous to her. Already coughing, she was given an inhaler, which did not stop her from asphyxiating on her own lung fluid early the next morning.

Both were inmates at the Multnomah County Detention Center, and both told the admitting nurses not just of their current symptoms but of red flags in their medical history. And in both cases the nurses did not consult with doctors before administering medications which, in the end, did not work.

These, at least, were the findings of criminal investigations into the deaths of Jody Gilbert Norman and Holly Jean Casey, released Thursday by the Multnomah County district attorney’s office.

Despite the findings, the March 10 memo detailed why no one would be prosecuted for the inmates’ deaths, although it raised questions about the quality of care received in jails.

In the memo, Senior Deputy District Attorney Don Rees wrote that “after reviewing the facts and circumstances surrounding the deaths of inmates Holly Jean Casey and Jody Gilbert Norman I conclude that no single person or persons can be held liable for any degree of criminal homicide as defined in (state law).”

Reese added, “To the investigators who worked on these cases and I, the deaths of inmates Casey and Norman seem to raise serious questions about inmate management and health care practices within the Multnomah County corrections system and the level of health services.”

While prosecutors will not charge anyone with homicide, they are pursuing charges against two nurses who worked in Multnomah County jails. One, William Lee James, is alleged to have altered patient records to falsely suggest he consulted with a doctor prior to prescribing anti-anxiety medication to Norman. Another, Kimberly Joers, is accused of falsifying drug records.

Moreover, Casey’s ex-husband has retained two local attorneys, Hala Gores and Matt Kaplan, to sue the county.

One nurse still on leave

Asked about the jail deaths, county health Director Lillian Shirley, who oversees the corrections health division, said, “This is something that we take extremely seriously and put a lot of planning time around analyzing what went wrong.”

Shirley added, “Now that the criminal complaint is done we can proceed with our personnel investigation, and I promise you it will be completed within a week.”

The first of the two deaths investigated occurred in 2005, after Norman, a petty thief, was admitted to jail while complaining of chest pain and a history of angina. The nurse, James, gave him Ativan and indicated in records that he’d spoken with a doctor before administering the drug.

Contacted in December, James told the Portland Tribune he was following an unofficial policy at the corrections health division and said he felt terrible about Norman’s death.

Shirley denied that her department had tolerated the practice described by James.

The second death, that of Casey, occurred Jan. 4 of this year.

Casey, with a history of drug abuse, was booked for failing to appear in court on a second-degree theft charge. She was given an inhaler after reporting difficulty breathing at 11 p.m. She “reportedly” showed some improvement, but then continued to complain about stomach and breathing problems, the Rees memo said.

At about 5 a.m., the deputy on duty advised a jail nurse that Casey was continuing to ask for medical care, but the nurse “declined to contact or treat Casey,” Rees wrote.

She was found to be dead at 7:30 a.m.

The nurse involved, Glenda Baxter, remains on leave while the county decides whether to discipline her for the treatment of Holly Jean Casey, according to Shirley.

Asked hypothetically about the standard of care when a patient with no spleen complains of pneumonia, Dr. Scott Fields, the vice chairman of the family medicine department of Oregon Health & Science University, cautioned that “confounding factors” can complicate cases, and that it’s hard to generalize when a pneumonia diagnosis depends on detectable symptoms.

However, he said the spleen “happens to be very important” for removing the bacteria responsible for strep pneumonia, meaning a patient lacking that organ could receive special attention.

He said he would evaluate that patient to confirm signs of pneumonia – check the heart rate, listen to the lungs and perhaps do an X-ray. Once the symptoms were confirmed, antibiotics would be administered.

Cases include Chasse in 2006

These are hardly the first controversial deaths to occur at or be involved with Multnomah County jails.

In 2003, an unemployed bricklayer who was well-known in the Portland music scene, Nick Baccelleri, died when corrections health personnel gave him an overdose of methadone rather than his prescribed medication. The county paid $200,000 to his family in that case.

In the past three years, according to County Attorney Agnes Sowle, the county has paid out $233,000 to settle four claims against the corrections health division. The largest of those, for $200,000, was paid to the family of Anthony Delarosa in January 2007.

According to a lawsuit filed by his estate in 2006 that accused corrections health of inadequate medical care, Delarosa died on Oct. 1, 2004, while suffering heroin withdrawal symptoms. He vomited and slipped into a withdrawal coma in his cell, but, according to the lawsuit, the jail defibrillator either was missing or did not function properly.

And in 2006, a corrections grand jury faulted the jail’s handling of James Chasse Jr. on Sept. 17 following a controversial altercation with two Portland police officers and a county sheriff’s deputy that led to his in-custody death.

According to the grand jury’s report, the jail nurse was not informed of the extent of Chasse’s injuries, the inmate was not taken immediately to the closest hospital when it looked as if his injuries might be life-threatening, and the jail lacks a protocol requiring arresting officers to specify the extent of any physical force used on an inmate being booked.

Jail’s not ‘a well population’

Shirley said that after any death at the jail, her department takes action to prevent any contributing factors in that death from happening again.

She noted that her unit examines some 40,000 inmates each year, many of them in poor health, drunk or on drugs, and with prior medical problems. So are deaths inevitable?

“This is a very tough job,” Shirley said. “Every day with the prison population, the people that are charged to take care of their health have to make a tremendous amount of decisions. And we’re not talking about a well population here.”

Rees’ memo also notes that Joers, the nurse prosecuted for tampering with drug records, was an admitted drug abuser who was hired by the county just one month after being fired from a Portland hospital for “misconduct involving the loss of a narcotic medication.”

Two weeks ago, in a separate case, a former county jail nurse, Catherine Earp, filed a threat of lawsuit, saying she had been forced to resign after blowing the whistle on poor oversight in county jails and observing substandard medical care.

The county has not yet responded to her allegations.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Alleged Mentally Ill Person At Risk Of Being “Beaten To Death” By Cops, Said Commitment Court

From the Portland Mercury

Multnomah County’s commitment court ruled two years ago an alleged mentally ill person should be locked in a psychiatric hospital because there was a risk she might be “beaten to death” by cops like James Chasse, if she were left to wander the streets, it was revealed yesterday.

The appeals court yesterday overturned the woman’s involuntary commitment, saying the conclusion that she “was a danger to herself because some officer, at some unknown point in the future, might kill or harm her is unduly speculative and does not establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that appellant is a danger to herself.”

The woman had fought with police when she was originally taken into custody on a mental health hold. So the commitment court said that “fighting with police…is certainly something that puts mentally ill people at risk of death or serious physical injury,” according to the appeals court verdict.

“The court commented on the then-recent death of James Chasse, stating that Chasse, an unarmed mentally ill person, “was confronted by police, and he was beaten to death.”,” the appeals court verdict continues.

Nevertheless, that’s not her fault, according to the appeals court.

It’s significant that the commitment court took “absolute judicial notice” of the fact that “fighting with the police” is “certainly something that puts mentally ill people at risk of death or serious physical injury,” because in legal terms, a judge would only take judicial notice of a fact when it is obvious and undisputed.

For example, a judge might take judicial notice of the fact that the Mercury is an alternative weekly newspaper, or of the fact that the sun set yesterday just after 7 pm. For a judge to take “absolute judicial notice” of the fact that mentally ill people are at risk of being beaten to death by police is a strong position.

Usually, a person is ruled a danger to themselves or others because of, for example: repeated suicide attempts, or thinking bleach is a magic drink sent from heaven, or for carrying a knife around and believing they are on a divine quest, or believing they are impervious to gunfire. Simply having a tendency to fight with police isn't sufficient, says the appeals court. You can read more about the commitment process here.

The appeals court verdict is unlikely to help the person who was committed, however. She has already spent up to 180 days in the psychiatric hospital, and has no legal recourse. 23 commitments in Multnomah County have been overturned by the appeals court since December 2006, either because the Commitment Court had insufficient evidence to commit the person, or simply because procedures weren't followed. In one case, a commitment was overturned because it was held "in the hallway of a hospital while appellant was naked in a hospital room, in the midst of a medical crisis, and unable to hear or participate meaningfully in the entire proceeding."

Critics of the system say civil commitment should not be used as a dumping ground for a failed public safety or mental health system. They argue that you can't just lock people up because society doesn't want to take care of them, or because it doesn't know how to.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Film will examine Chasse's life, death

Documentary - "Alien Boy" deals with the case of James Chasse Jr., who died in police custody

From The Oregonian

The Mental Health Association of Portland will be working with a Portland filmmaker to produce a documentary about the life and death of James P. Chasse Jr.

The title, "Alien Boy," refers to a song written by a friend of Chasse, Greg Sage, the lead singer of The Wipers band. As a young teenager, Chasse described The Wipers as "my fave local band" in a magazine he wrote called "The Oregon Organism."

Sage dedicated the lyrics from his 1979 song "Alien Boy" as a memorial to Chasse, a 42-year-old man who died in police custody Sept. 17, 2006. Chasse, who suffered from schizophrenia, died of broad-based trauma to his chest after police struggled to take him into custody in the Pearl District.

Sage's lyrics are: "Go and grab your gun; Got him on the run; Cause he's an alien; They hurt what they don't understand."

The association will work with Portland filmmaker Brian Lindstrom to make the film, and follow the family's civil case against the city and police.

The federal lawsuit, pending in U.S. District Court in Portland, contends that the officers involved violated Chasse's civil rights and that the city has a pattern of failing to discipline officers involved in use of deadly force.

Lindstrom has made two other documentaries, called "Kicking," about drug detoxification in Portland, and "Finding Normal," about recovery from drug addiction, also made in Portland.

"Our hope is to create a film powerful enough to persuade other cities to make the changes Portland did after James died -- before someone like James in their hometown dies," said Jason Renaud, a friend of Chasse's and a volunteer board member of the mental health association.

The film's Web site lists the following positive changes made since Chasse's death: the requirement that all Portland officers complete 40 hours of crisis intervention training; Multnomah County's call for a sub-acute center to treat people suffering from a mental health crisis; and changes to the Portland Police Bureau's Use of Force policy that encourages officers to use the "least force reasonably necessary."

More information about the film can be obtained at the Web site: All donations to the Mental Health Association of Portland this year will go toward the production of the film.

"Only a full, public account of who James was and what happened to him can prevent another tragedy," the film's Web site says.