Council Accused Of “Impunity” On Chasse—Given 7 Actions To “Begin Rebuilding”

From the Portland Mercury, September 30, 2009

The Portland Police Association has hired the same public relations firm as Merritt Paulson did for Major League Soccer, just in time to deal with the fallout from the inquiry into James Chasse Jr‘s death. Greg Peden and Shannon Berg from Gallatin Public Affairs were in council this morning with PPA boss Scott Westerman to listen to Jason Renaud from the Mental Health Association of Portland accuse the city of “impunity” related to Chasse’s death in police custody back in 2006. Gallatin worked with former mayor of Portland, Vera Katz, on the MLS deal, and Westerman said he would consult with Peden and Berg before commenting on Renaud’s remarks. We’ll update you as soon as we have a comment from the PPA.

Update, 12:51: Westerman says the PPA “wholeheartedly agrees” with Renaud’s request for better collaboration and dialog between the mental health community and the Portland Police Bureau. “It would be beneficial for all involved.”

“The issue that the PPA has with Renaud’s seven requests is that he is specifically focusing on the three officers. If they’re going to pull those three officers from patrol, the city may as well pull all police officers from the street,” Westerman says. “Because any officer on the Portland Police Bureau that was present in that situation would have likely had the same same outcome. The officers followed the bureau’s policy and procedures. The simple fact is that the three officers are being singled out in this tragic situation.”

Original post:“I’m not surprised the PPA has hired a public relations firm,” says Renaud, in response. “I think they’re in trouble. They’ve made an enormous public relations mistake by siding with three guys against 900. They’ve lost the media, they’ve lost the public trust, and even the commenters on the Portland Tribune’s website have turned against them.”

Renaud called on city council to remove the three Police officers involved in Chasse’s death from active duty this morning, along with six other actions to restore public trust. “The majority of police officers are well trained, and do an excellent job,” he said. “They do not make mistakes like these officers did.”

“Our organization and thousands of people in Portland believe injustice has prevailed, that a fair hearing on what happened to James Chasse has not occurred,” Renaud said to council this morning. “The final opportunity for intervention was a internal review of the officer’s actions, and a decision whether those actions were within the policy of the police bureau. After three years the bureau distributed a press release citing reasons their review was late. A minor technicality was found, so minor punishment may occur.”

“What’s occurred is impunity,” he continued. “The message delivered is a brutal beating and death of a person with a mental illness, even one with caregivers, friends, family, a home, a clean record, is acceptable within the Portland Police Bureau.”

Renaud called on council this morning to:

    1.Release the full internal investigation of what happened to James Chasse – not a press release;
    2. Move the three officers involved with the death of James Chasse – Humphreys, Nice and Burton – off patrol duty;
    3. Make a goal to reducing the use of Tasers on persons with mental illness by 50% per year for the next five years;
    4. Reopen the Chief’s Forum;
    5. Form a joint effort by local governments and local police bureaus with mental health advocates to seek full funding for mental health services from the state legislature;
    6. Open a sincere, staffed and ongoing public meeting between police senior staff and persons with mental illness;
    7. Release the Crisis Intervention Team curriculum to public inspection, release data about police encounters with persons with mental illness.

“We expect council to do these seven actions,” says Renaud. “We’ll give them until the middle of next week. They are fairly simple, straightforward actions to take and will really help begin the rebuilding process.”

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz thanked Renaud for his remarks, apologizing for Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s “scheduled absence.” “I’ll be working with our human relations and police and community relations committee to continue working on this,” she said.

Update, October 1, 1:55 pm “We have had a public relations firm on retainer for years and years and years, we have just switched firms,” says Westerman, responding to Renaud’s comments about hiring a PR firm. “This is about contract negotiations, public relations, branding—trying to differentiate the PPA from the PPB, and media response.”

READ – Testimony for Portland City Council, September 30, 2009