One year later, the death of Portland’s James Chasse, Jr. is spurring changes in how police, jails, and paramedics do their jobs.
Chasse died from chest injuries September 17, 2006 after the mentally ill man scuffled with Portland Police officers.
That evening, they made contact with Chasse after he was seen urinating in public.
Chasse, a frail-looking 42-year-old schizophrenic, was defiant as he led police on a short foot chase.
The city’s review of the incident describes how the group took a hard tumble onto a sidewalk in Portland’s Pearl District.
Two hours later, Chasse died from chest-crushing injuries suffered during his tangle with police.
“In all the years I’ve been around policing, there’ve only been a few incidents that have touched the community like the James Chasse case,” said Portland Mayor Tom Potter.
Potter says during the year since Chasse’s died, promises of change are slowly becoming fulfilled.
“Every officer and supervisor who works the street will go through a 40-hour training on how to deescalate tension (with) people suffering from mental illness.”
At Multnomah County’s downtown jail -where police brought Chasse briefly before his injuries were fully recognized- Sheriff Bernie Giusto says there are now strict policies in place dictating how paramedics and police communicate with jail medical staff about the condition of suspects when they arrive there.
“There are certainly some adjustments that need to happen,” Giusto said.
Chasse is believed to have died that night while authorities transported him via a police cruiser to Providence Hospital.
Giusto says that is no longer allowed.
“They will -under most circumstance- leave in a medical transport vehicle. They’re no longer allowed to be loaded back into patrol cars.”
Potter praises those changes, but he says one change in particular is sorely missing.
“The police need a crisis triage center, a place where they can take people with mental illness to have them diagnosed.”
County Commissioner Lisa Naito agrees.
She is trying to find scarce county budget money for such a triage center.
“I want to make it reality, these recommendations.”
Naito has a family member who suffers from mental illness.
She believes Chasse’s story would’ve turned out differently if fully trained police had a place to bring Chasse other than jail or a hospital.
“From my perspective it could’ve been my family member that this would’ve happened to,” she said.
Naito is now looking for up to $4 million dollars in county funding for a new, secure 16-bed mental triage facility.
Police and deputies should be up-to-date on crisis intervention training within a year and a half.
In the meantime, the city faces a civil lawsuit from Chasse’s family.