‘Alien Boy’: documenting a mental-illness tragedy

From the Seattle Times, March 6, 2014

A four-star review of “Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse,” director Brian Lindstrom’s documentary that details one man’s struggles with schizophrenia and his encounter with Portland police officers.

“Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse” presents the facts surrounding the tragic death of Chasse, a once-promising poet, artist and ’zine publisher in Portland.


In the early 1980s Chasse hung around the then burgeoning punk scene that gave rise to such bands as the Wipers and published the fanzine Oregon Organizm.

The film, directed by Brian Lindstrom, uses interviews with friends and family to show the gradual decline of Chasse’s mental stability and his struggles with schizophrenia.

His life was cut short when police instigated an encounter with Chasse, whom they accused of urinating in public. Chasse ran from officers and broke 16 ribs after being tackled hard onto the pavement. He was kicked, punched repeatedly and Tazered four times.

The film makes it clear that the abuse Chasse suffered was brutal, but only half as disturbing as what happened next. He was denied treatment from paramedics, hogtied and transported to jail in the back of a patrol car.

He lost consciousness several times and once at the jail, according to the film, was denied medical treatment again — even though he was bleeding, in and out of consciousness and going into a seizure.

Lindstrom contends that Chasse died because of the savage beating and neglect at the hands of the Portland Police Department. His death sent shock waves through the Portland community, especially the friends and family who knew him to be harmless.

Chasse’s family eventually received a settlement, but Lindstrom’s focus is bringing to light the problems associated with mental illness and how society and law enforcement deal with them.

Despite the tragedy of the events, the film is inspiring in that it shows that witnesses and the public are willing to speak out in order to hold police and elected officials accountable.