A citizen panel charged with reviewing complaints against Portland police is pushing to hold a public forum on the 2006 death in police custody of James P. Chasse Jr. , a step that appears to unsettle some city officials.
Members of the Citizen Review Committee met with the chair of Portland State University’s criminal justice department today, and are considering having Ron Louie, a former Hillsboro police chief and adjunct professor, serve as facilitator.
No date has been set, but the citizen panel is considering a two-hour session this spring.
The League of Women Voters had pressed the Citizen Review Committee to hold a public forum.
“The Chasse case has raised some extremely important issues and questions about police policy for many Portlanders,” wrote Debbie Aiona, action chair for the league, in a letter to the committee. “As the citizen face of our city’s police oversight system, it is important for you to reach out to the public and listen to its concerns.”
Chasse, 42, who suffered from schizophrenia, died in police custody on Sept. 17, 2006.
An autopsy by the state medical examiner showed he died of broad-based blunt force trauma to the chest. Police say they saw him acting oddly, and possibly urinating in the street in the Pearl District and when they approached, he ran. Police chased Chasse, knocked him to the ground and struggled to take him into custody.
Paramedics called to the scene said Chasse’s vital signs were normal, but jail medical staff refused to book him. Chasse died as police were driving him to a hospital.
Chasse’s family has a federal lawsuit pending against the city and paramedics, contending police used excessive force, and police and paramedics failed to provide adequate medical care to Chasse. A trial is set for June.
Mary-Beth Baptista, director of the Independent Police Review Division, the intake center for complaints against police, cautioned the citizen panel today not to set up the public for disappointment and carefully frame how the public forum will be held and how the citizen committee will respond.
Organizers said they hoped to have at least one of the outside consultants being hired this year to review the Chasse investigation attend the public forum.
The city auditor is poised to sign a contract with the consultant, the California-based OIR Group, to review the quality of the police internal investigation of Chasse’s death, why it took more than three years to complete and if any bureau policies or training need to be addressed. The consultants are expected to submit their report by the end of June, Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade said.
“Really the consultant’s role is very, very narrow,” Baptista said. She cautioned the citizen review committee not to raise the public’s expectations because the consultants aren’t going to be able to include all their concerns in their final report.
The city’s request for proposals for the Chasse review said the consultants would meet with the Citizen Review Committee and “interested community members, as deemed necessary by the City Auditor and the IPR director.”
Aiona, of the League of Women Voters, said she was disappointed that the wording of the proposal restricted which community members the consultants could meet with. “Who is government serving if not the public?’’ Aiona asked.
Members of the Citizen Review Committee Friday talked about logistics and planning for a forum. Talk about having PSU security at the event raised concerns among some community activists, who argued it’s unnecessary.
Kevin Hershey, a PSU student helping to organize the forum, said university officials are “sensitive to not making this a circus. I think everyone involved wants to make it as civilized as possible.”
Citizen review committee member Rochelle Silver , who met with PSU officials Friday, said , “Everybody was excited about the idea of this forum. I think it can all come together.”