10 years after James Chasse’s death, outrage and melancholy linger in Portland

KATU News, Sept. 16, 2016

It’s been nearly 10 years since James Chasse, a man with paranoid schizophrenia, died in police custody after Portland officers beat him.

An advocate for the mentally ill says despite many reforms, justice is still not served.

Portland’s police chief told KATU Friday the bureau has come a long way since Chasse’s death and said there are some very basic things officers would do differently if a similar incident happened today.

He said a person in Chasse’s position would be taken to the hospital by ambulance from the scene of the incident and officers would possibly not even chase him to begin with.

On Sept. 17, 2006, officers in the Pearl District said they believed Chasse, 42, had urinated in public. The officers and a Multnomah County deputy chased him down and confronted him at the corner of Northwest 13th Avenue and Everett Street before witnesses said they tackled him to the ground.

Police said paramedics at the scene cleared him medically to be transported to jail.

But the Multnomah County Jail refused to take him due to medical issues and he died as police drove him to the hospital.

An autopsy said he died of blunt force trauma to the chest and 16 broken ribs.

“The police officers made many mistakes,” Jason Renaud, a volunteer with the Mental Health Association of Portland, told KATU Friday. “They should have their credentials taken away from them.”

Renaud said he went to school with Chasse in Portland.

“As a teenager he was an artistic young person,” Renaud said. “He wrote poetry, wrote a newsletter, made art.”

Renaud produced a 2013 documentary about Chasse called “Alien Boy: The Life and Times of James Chasse.”

He said he’s outraged the three officers involved with the case were not only not fired, they still work in law enforcement. And they never faced criminal charges.

‚ÄúThose three were never held accountable by either the bureau, the academy or by City Council,” said Renaud.

One of the officers, Chris Humphreys, is now sheriff of Wheeler County.

“There have been many changes attributed to James Chasse’s death,” Renaud said, “including the development of a police training center, changes to the medical transport policy, a federal lawsuit from the Department of Justice against the city of Portland.”

In 2010, The city also settled a civil lawsuit filed by Chasse’s family for $1.6 million.

“Obviously, I wish that tragedy didn’t happen,” Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman told KATU Friday. “I believe this agency has moved forward.”

Marshman said much has changed since Chasse’s death.

“We’ve changed our force policy a number of times in 10 years. That’s one. Two is our force usage (total number of use of force incidents) continues to go down. Every reportable force that officers use gets thoroughly investigated now by about five layers in a chain of command. We have a behavioral health unit now, which I’m extremely proud of.”

Marshman also said police are now trained in crisis intervention and de-escalation, meaning not every suspect is chased.

“If we don’t think they’re a danger to the community let ’em run,” Marshman said, “‘Cause why again force an encounter, make that encounter potentially worse.”

A grand jury cleared the officers involved with the Chasse case of any wrongdoing.

Quarterly Portland Police Bureau reports show there were 127 use of force incidents involving people with mental illness from April of 2015 to April of this year. But before April of 2015, there’s not a lot of historical data on use of force incidents involving the mentally ill.

Marshman said as of last spring officers must answer several questions about possible mental health issues on virtually every call.

The bureau answered 373,496 calls from April of 2015 to April of 2016.


Film, community conversation to mark 10th anniversary of James P. Chasse Jr.’s death in police custody

The Oregonian – September 2016

To mark the 10th anniversary of the death in Portland police custody of James P. Chasse Jr., a documentary film on Chasse’s life will air Saturday night, followed by a community conversation.

“The issues Jim’s death brought forward are still relevant and the city still struggles to train and discipline officers,” said Jason Renaud, a volunteer with the Mental Health Association of Portland.

On Sept. 17, 2006, police thought Chasse, 42, who had schizophrenia, might have urinated in the street in the Pearl District and tried to stop him. They chased him and knocked him to the ground, then wrestled with him to arrest him.

Multnomah County jail staff refused to book him because of his medical condition. He died in police custody en route to a hospital.

An autopsy found he died of broad-based blunt-force trauma to the chest. He suffered 26 breaks to 16 ribs, some of which punctured his left lung.

In 2010, the city agreed to pay Chasse’s family $1.6 million to settle a federal wrongful death lawsuit, the city’s largest settlement. At that time, former Police Chief Mike Reese, now Multnomah County sheriff, apologized for Chasse’s death and said officers must do their jobs in a “more thoughtful and collaborative manner” with outside agencies. He also called the three-year delay in the Police Bureau’s internal review “completely unacceptable.”

Chasse’s death revealed gaps in procedures because no one recognized the significant injuries he had suffered until it was too late. Ambulance paramedics said his vital signs were normal, and a Portland police officer signed for him, declining transport to a hospital. Two officers drove Chasse to the Multnomah County Detention Center. A jail nurse looked through the cell door window and told police that the jail would not book Chasse but didn’t call for an ambulance.

Portland officers placed Chasse in a patrol car and he died on the way to Portland Adventist Hospital after appearing to suffer a seizure and losing consciousness. Police say they were headed to Adventist because that’s the hospital the bureau contracts with for prisoners, but Chasse’s family argued the officers should have taken him to a closer hospital.

Since Chasse’s death, the Police Bureau has required all officers to complete 40 hours of crisis intervention training. The bureau also adopted a policy that restricts when officers can put a sick or injured person in their patrol car and outlines what information police must share with paramedics and jail nurses, such as how much force was used during an arrest. The jail also now requires that an inmate be transported by ambulance to a hospital if the inmate is considered too ill for booking.

The city also is under a federal settlement agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice, required to improve officer encounters with people suffering from mental illness.

Multnomah County commissioners approved a record $925,000 payment to settle its part of the federal lawsuit, and AMR ambulance company paid out about $600,000 to settle its part of the claim.

At 5 p.m. Saturday, the Cerimon House will host “Bearing Witness: James Chasse Jr.” and show “The Alien Boy,” a documentary about Chasse’s life. A community conversation is expected to be held afterward, starting about 7 p.m.

The director of Cerimon House, Randall Stuart, was a witness to the police encounter with Chasse, as he was walking that night to grab dinner between two shows at the Artists Repertory Theater, according to his deposition.

Cerimon House, a nonprofit humanities and cultural arts organization, is located at 5131 N.E. 23rd Ave.

Following the film, Oregon artist Henk Pander will announce plans to paint a public mural in Chasse’s memory next spring. Fundraising has started for the mural, as well as a search for a suitable location, Renaud said.