Police Chief Rosie Sizer has released the findings of an internal review of the 2006 death of James Chasse—a man suffering with schizophrenia—this morning, finding barely any wrongdoing by her officers apart from Sergeant Kyle Nice, at the scene, who failed to follow the bureau’s directives on transporting a subject to hospital in certain situations following Taser deployment.
Sizer and Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman will now co-sign a letter ordering Nice suspended for an as-yet to be determined period of time. Nice will have the opportunity to appeal the suspension if he chooses. Saltzman had no comment on the findings this morning, but told the Mercury: “We certainly regret Mr. Chasse’s death.”
The bureau’s use of force board found that:
The initiation and termination of the foot pursuit of Chasse did not violate any bureau policy and that the force used during the struggle to stop, control and handcuff Mr.Chasse was within policy. As soon as the officers observed Mr. Chasse showing signs of medical distress, officers called for paramedics. At the time Mr. Chasse was transported to jail, officers had been told by paramedics Mr. Chasse was medically stable. There is no evidence in any report or witness statement that caused members of the Use of Force Review Board to conclude that any officer at the scene knew or should have known that Mr. Chasse had suffered a serious physical injury.
Those findings are surprising, to say the least, given facts in the case.
From a story earlier this year:
1. Chasse’s broken ribs were most likely the result of kicks or a dropped knee. State medical examiner Karen Gunson, who performed Chasse’s autopsy, told attorneys for the Chasse family during depositions that some fractured ribs in Chasse’s back were unlikely to have been caused by his fall to the ground, but that a “knee in that particular area on the back of the neck” was a “better scenario.” Gunson found 48 separate abrasions or contusions on Chasse’s body, including 16 possible blows to the head. Chasse would most likely have lived if he had been given proper medical care, Gunson said.
2. Chasse never urinated in the street. Deposition of Portland Police Bureau Officer Christopher Humphreys reveals he never saw Chasse urinate on the sidewalk—an alleged detail of their encounter, which has been widely reported as a possible legal basis for the officers stopping Chasse. At most, Humphreys thought he saw Chasse urinating in his own pants because there was possibly a wet patch on his trousers, he said. But Chasse was causing no distress or alarm, Humphreys admitted.
3. Chasse screamed before going unconscious. Several witnesses described Chasse’s screams during his struggle with police. “He seemed like a scared animal,” said witness Melissa Jane Gaylord. Electrician Tony Lee Carter “thought [Chasse] was dead” for a period during which Chasse was unconscious on the sidewalk, following his beating. Bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg, another witness, said: “I did hear Mr. Chasse yelling ‘mercy, mercy, mercy,’ and that was personally pretty disturbing to me.”
4. Paramedics did not adequately assess Chasse’s injuries. Sergeant Kyle Nice radioed for backup saying Chasse was “unconscious” on the street corner of NW 13th and Everett, but never informed paramedics of the extent of force used or of Chasse’s prolonged unconsciousness, according to the documents. Paramedic Tamara Hergert wrote only that Chasse had become “extremely quiet” on the sidewalk. “Police thought he may have passed out, he came to quickly,” she wrote. Hergert also apparently neglected to do a body check on Chasse, beyond checking his vital signs, which she wrote down were normal. Hergert also told lawyers she was directed by Nice to have Humphreys sign a medical release form on Chasse’s behalf.
5. Witnesses were shocked Chasse wasn’t taken to hospital in an ambulance. Local developer Homer Williams said Chasse looked like a “bag of bones” when police put him in a squad car.
6. There was mocking of Chasse’s distress. “There was clear vocal mocking, the mocking of Mr. Chasse’s cries for help,” said eyewitness Randall Stuart, referring to emergency workers on the scene. Later TriMet sergeant Terry O’Keefe, who was supervising Humphreys and Sheriff’s Deputy Bret Burton that night, sent them a message on their in-car computers: “NICE WORK BOYS. GLAD U R OK N HE ISN’T.”
7. Police experts say cops were in the wrong. An expert witness says Officers Nice, Humphreys, and Sheriff’s Deputy Burton did not follow police policies and practices in the treatment of someone who is at least suspected of being mentally ill. Lou Reiter, former Deputy Police Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, described the officers’ use of force as “unreasonable,” and their failure to disclose to paramedics the force used on Chasse as “unreasonable.”
“The findings of the investigation released today reaffirm our belief that the officers involved were within policy as it relates to their use of force in this incident,” said Portland Police Association Boss Scott Westerman, in a statement released shortly after the findings.
“Nice’s suspension could be ten minutes long,” says Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland. “The question is whether there is some sort of punitive measure that will cause police officers to not do this in the future. What we’ve learned over the past three years is that the relationship between persons suffering from mental health issues and police officers is complex.”
“It’s important that what happens to Kyle Nice be public,” Renaud continues. “So that officers know that they have a responsibility to care for people, even though they may be seen in their eyes as despicable.”
“The dilemma is that when police officers do the right thing as per policy and per training, and yet someone ends up dead, there is something wrong,” says Renaud. “That problem has not be solved yet, and it seems to be that the only way to solve that is by the penalty afforded from a civil trial.”
“This is the opening salvo in the police/city contract negotiation with the police union, and hopefully Dan Saltzman has the guts to negotiate on behalf of the citizens of Portland and not on behalf of the interests of police officers,” says Renaud—referring to the negotiations due to begin in November. “These negotiations between the city and the unions are almost always closed door stuff.”
Attorneys for the Chasse family are reviewing the chief’s findings and will decide whether to release a statement shortly.
Dan Handelman from Portland Copwatch has sent the following email to his members:
Looks like that Internal Affairs report finally made it to the Chief. Only one of the three officers involved—Sgt Kyle Nice—will be disciplined, and it’s for a relatively minor reason, though connected to Chasse’s death: That he didn’t transport Chasse to the hospital after using a Taser. Humphreys and Burton are exonerated, despite the fact that they applied blows to Chasse’s head (deadly force) and broke nearly all of his ribs. As I told one reporter, if that is within Bureau policy, we need to change Bureau policy.
According to a timeline released by the Bureau, one holdup in the investigation had to do with interviewing Deputy Burton, who was working for the Sheriff’s office but under the direction of the Portland Police Transit Division at the time.
This issue is something we’ve been on about since the 2000 shooting of Justyn Galegos by Portland officers along with other jurisdictions—how do you hold such officers accountable when they are working with Portland Police?
The fact that the Use of Force Review Board was reconvened last Wednesday—one day before the three year anniversary of Chasse’s death—is very telling. However, that the members of that board, presumably including the two citizen members (whose identities we can only guess at, since they were picked from a pool of 20), found no other wrongdoing is disturbing. As we’ve also pointed out before, separating these serious cases from the more minor ones that are handled by the Independent Police Review Division (IPR) and can be adjudicated at public hearings by the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) is a disservice to the community. They should at least open the UFRB hearings if they are not going to integrate the system.
The Oregonian reports that Chasse family attorney Tom Steenson plans to hold the City accountable for releasing the information on the Internal Affairs investigation as it violates the gag order imposed by the judge. Steenson plans to ask the judge, once again, to lift the gag order—which would make sense now that the City has ignored the order.
I’ve included the Mercury’s blog entry on the findings below because they go into a lot of detail and point out some of the reasons the findings are bogus.
The Chasse family’s attorney, Tom Steenson, has released the following statement, relating to a judge’s protective order in the case:
“Over two years ago, the City of Portland and other defendants in the lawsuit sought a protective order barring the parties from releasing to the public documents and information regarding the Portland Police Bureau’s investigations into the death of James P. Chasse, Jr. Over the strenuous objections of the plaintiffs (the Chasse family – dad, mom and brother), and the unsuccessful intervention by the media at that time, the Court entered a protective order barring the release of those documents and that information to the public. Since then, plaintiffs have renewed their opposition to the protective order and have sought to make those investigations public, while the City and Chief Sizer have continued to argue that a protective order should remain in place. Despite the Chasse family’s arguments to the contrary, the Court has ordered the parties in the lawsuit, including the City and Chief Sizer, to continue to comply with the protective order.”
“As a result of this protective order, the Chasse family and their attorneys have been unable to release documents and other information which they have learned in the course of the lawsuit about the Police Bureau’s investigations into James’ death. Unfortunately, that remains true today, preventing the Chasse family and their attorneys from commenting on the subject matter of the Police Bureau’s News Release today and from releasing documents and information about those investigations which it appears the City has not released to the public.”
“The Chasse family and their attorneys are very sorry that they cannot comment on these events at this time. However, they are taking immediate steps to ask the Court to set aside the protective order which the City and Chief Sizer have violated today by their release of documents and information which are subject to the order. If the Court grants our renewed motion, we will then be in a position to release documents and information about the Police Bureau’s investigations into James’ death which the City does not appear to be releasing and to comment, like the City and Chief Sizer have done today, on those investigations and related matters.”