Chasse settlement: $1.6 million – City Council could vote on deal next week

From the Portland Tribune, May 11, 2010

The city has tentatively agreed to settle the James Chasse federal wrongful death lawsuit for $1.6 million — the largest such settlement in city history.

Speaking to reporters at an afternoon City Hall press conference, Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman personally apologized to the Chasse family for his death.

“I want to express my deepest apology to the Chasse family for the loss of their son and brother,” Saltzman said.

Chasse, a 42-year-old who suffered from schizophrenia, died after being subdued and arrested by police in September 2006. An autopsy showed he died from numerous internal injuries, including broken ribs.

Saltzman said the City Council could vote on the settlement as early as next week. The payment would not affect next year’s budget. One million dollars would be paid from an insurance reserve fund maintained by the city and $600,000 would be paid by a secondary insurer.

Tom Steenson, an attorney for the Chasse family, said they would issue a statement in the future. Part of the settlement calls for releasing many of the city documents generated during the investigation into Chasse’s death.

“All that [the Chasse family] can say about the additional details of the settlement at this time is that James would have wanted the truth to come out by settling the case now,” Steenson said in a prepared statement.

Two other defendants in the case settled with Chasse’s family last year.

Multnomah County paid $925,000 after being accused of failing to provide proper medical care to Chasse after he was taken to the downtown Justice Center jail, which is operated by the county. In addition, a county deputy was involved in the arrest. Brett Burton is now a Portland police officer.

The other defendant that settled is the American Medical Response ambulance company. it paid a reported $600,000 to the family after being accused of failing to provide proper medical care to Chasse.

Two police employees involved in the case have been disciplined by Saltzman and Police Chief Rosie Sizer. Sergeant Kyle Nice and Officer Christopher Humphreys were each suspended for two weeks for failing to provide sufficient information about the force used in the arrest to medical personnel.

Mayor Sam Adams says he supports the settlement.

“I hope it brings some small measure of comfort to the Chasse family,” Adams told reporters after the press conference.

Both Adams and Saltzman said the police bureau has instituted numerous changes to prevent such confrontations in the future, including training all officers in crisis intervention techniques.

“We want all interactions between the police to be safe and professional and helpful, and I believe the vast majority are,” Adams said.

Chasse’s death inspired protests by community activists and advocates for the mentally ill, some of whom accused the police of beating him to death. After the press conference, Police Chief Rose Sizer denied those accusations in a written statement.

“As Chief of Police, I have been frustrated by my inability to address this matter publicly due to the ongoing litigation. I believe that the Portland Police Bureau and the individual officers have been unfairly demonized. James Chasse’s death was a horrible accident and not a ‘beating death.’ That’s what the Bureau’s investigation showed, and nothing in the litigation proved otherwise. The independent witnesses do not describe a rain of blows by Portland Police officers. The medical experts did not agree that the cause of death was the result of a beating. James Chasse’s death was an accident, a terrible, tragic accident,” the statement read in part.