The Portland City Council voted 4-0 early Wednesday to approve a $1.6 million settlement in the wrongful death civil suit filed by the estate of a mentally ill man who died while in police custody in 2006 after being arrested in the Pearl District.
The suit in the death of James Chasse Jr., 42, was negotiated in May. Approval of the settlement, the largest in the city’s history, came just hours before a 6 p.m. City Council meeting at which commissioners heard a report from City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade about the Chasse case.
The auditor’s report, prepared by a California consulting group, found serious flaws in police procedures during Chasse’s arrest and during an internal investigation in the three year after the his death.
The auditor’s report is unusual in that it was prepared by the Los Angeles County Office of Internal Review. The OIR is composed of lawyers who ensure that allegations of misconduct against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are thoroughly investigated. The OIR has examined investigations of five police-involved shootings and in-custody deaths since 2002.
Asked if [Tom] Steenson’s assessment of PPB was accurate, Police Chief Mike Reese replied: “I can’t say. I don’t think so.”
OIR chief attorney Michael Gennaco was asked if cases in which people died in police custody have led to the disciplining of police. “Most cities don’t even investigate these things,” he said. “Many cities have a school of thought that you cannot second-guess the judgment of an officer at moments like this. Portland is a place that doesn’t have that school of thought. It’s remarkable that they don’t.”
[Dan] Saltzman, who was police commissioner during much of the Chasse aftermath, was unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon, but Shannon Callahan, Saltzman’s police adviser during his tenure as police commissioner said, “We basically got handed the case after Mayor Tom Potter left.”
During that period Saltzman’s office got a good look at how the bureau and the city conducted the investigation. They didn’t like what they saw. Saltzman pushed for harsher punishment for Officers Kyle Nice and Christopher Humphreys and to get systematic changes in place to improve communications between police and EMS workers, but much of the process was frustrated by a gag order placed on the investigation.
“The city attorney placed a blanket gag order over the entire case,” said Callahan. “It was an untenable situation not being able to talk about the case at all. There was disinformation and bad information and information that the public still hasn’t seen. Dan was fighting for transparency the whole time he had the commission.”
[Sam] Adams pulled the police bureau from Saltzman in May, the day after the Chasse settlement was agreed on.