Chasse family accuses police of twisting facts

From KATU.com, October 18, 2006

The family of a mentally ill man who died in police custody lashed out at police Wednesday, alleging that they, and the district attorney’s office, hijacked grand jury proceedings to keep officers from facing criminal charges.

A Multnomah County grand jury on Tuesday cleared police in the death of James Chasse Jr., 42, who died Sept. 17 after a struggle with two Portland police officers and a Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy. Chasse died while the officers were transporting him to the hospital.

In the autopsy report, it stated that Chasse broke 16 ribs, including some that punctured a lung and caused massive internal bleeding. Toxicology tests showed he had no alcohol or drugs in his system. Despite the autopsy results, the medical examiner ruled Chasse’s death accidental.

Tom Steenson

Tom Steenson

On Tuesday, Police Chief Rosie Sizer expressed regret over the incident and talked about how the Portland Police Bureau was planning to do in light of Chasse’s death. In addition, Mayor Potter apologized to the Chasse family.

An attorney for Chasse’s family, Tom Steenson, said Wednesday that authorities twisted the facts of what happened that day.

“We would hope that Chief Sizer and the Police Bureau would stop dispersing false information to the public and be truthful so the community can make its own decision about what happened,” he said.

Steenson contended that Chasse’s injuries did not match the conclusions by the medical examiner. He also claimed there were also inconsistencies in transcripts of officers’ accounts of how they took Chasse into custody. For example, the lawyer pointed out, Portland police officer Christopher Humphreys said he gave Chasse a “really hard shove,” but Sgt. Kyle Nice said Humphreys tackled Chasse and both men landed in the intersection.

Overall, Steenson contended, grand jurors never received an accurate picture of the events surrounding Chasse’s death.

“When the medical examiner is in there telling the grand jury that this was an accident and basing her conclusion on the fact that (one of the officers) fell on Jim – when that’s not the truth – it’s clear that the grand jury, from our point of view, was misled,” Steenson said.

Jim Chasse

Jim Chasse

The grand jury unanimously agreed that Nice, Humphreys and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy Brett Burton did nothing criminal while Chasse was in custody. Chasse’s family said regardless of the grand jury decision, they remain upset at police.

“We remain horrified by the callous and completely indifferent ways the police and law enforcement treated James the day he was killed,” said Chasse’s father, James Chasse, Sr.

Steenson said the city needs to send a message with the case.

“In this case it’s about attitude,” he said. “If the city doesn’t take remedial steps and prompt steps to address concerns like this with these officers then there’s no reason for the officers not to continue to exhibit out of control behavior and that’s what they did. They were out of control.”

Steenson left open the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit in connection with the case. He said he also might seek an independent review from an outside agency such the Oregon Attorney General’s Office.