On the evening of September 17, 2006 James Chasse was walking toward his home from Northwest Portland. Portland Police officer Christopher Humphreys and Multnomah County Sheriff’s deputy Bret Burton called out to him from their patrol car. Portland Police sergeant Kyle Nice arrived within seconds. According to witnesses, James turned away and began to run from the officers. Humphreys tackled James on the sidewalk, and both Humphreys and Nice fought with James on the sidewalk. According to witnesses, the struggle was brief, and one-sided.
According to the homicide investigation presented to the grand jury and two autopsies, James was tackled and beaten by fists and feet. He was Tasered multiple times. Officers caused 26 rib fractures, broke his shoulder, tore his spleen, smashed his face. His fatal wounds were from knee drops and kicks to the face. They hogtied him and threw him in the back of a patrol car.
Emergency medical technicians from American Medical Rescue examined James and indicated to officers he was not sufficiently injured to need medical care.
The officers who beat James transported him to jail, and then were directed by jail nurses to take him to a hospital. No jail nurses offered medical assistance.
As shown in a jail security video, officers hogtied and carried James, shrieking and writhing in pain past deputies and nursing staff, out of jail. The officers elected to take James to a hospital 8 miles away, instead of to any one of the four hospitals within two miles. He died en route to the hospital and little more than 100 minutes after the beating.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER JAMES CHASSE DIED
Portland Police homicide detectives interviewed all three officers who beat James within a week after he died. All officers returned to duty and remain officers today.
On September 17, 2006, Medical Examiner Karen Gunson determined the cause of Jim’s death was blunt force trauma and that his death had been accidental. The fatal trauma was caused by knee drops to James’ back and kicks to his head, both unsuitable uses of force by police officers.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Mascal presented the investigation of the officers to a grand jury on October 3, 2006. On October 17, 2006, the grand jury return with no decision to prosecute. District Attorney Michael Schrunk failed to file charges against the officers.
In October 2006, Michael Schrunk released the entire homicide investigation to the Chasse family, who in turn released it to the media.
On October 17, 2006, the Mental Health Association of Portland, joined by Portland CopWatch and the Oregon Advocacy Center held a memorial for the Chasse family at the First Congregational Church downtown. Over 400 people attended.
On October 23, 2006, the Mental Health Association of Portland launched a comprehensive web site to contain all information pertaining to the what happened to James Chasse and to evoke community dialogue. The site is located at http://jameschasse.blogspot.com. On September 2, 2008, updates to this site were shifted the the new Mental Health Association of Portland web site at www.mentalhealthportland.org.
Mayor Tom Potter apologized to the Chasse family through the media on October 17, 2006.
On October 31, 2006, Potter convened the Public Safety and Mental Health Task Force, co-chaired by County Commissioner Ted Wheeler and then State Senator Avel Gordly. For the most part the Task Force focused on shortcomings of the mental health system instead of police procedure. However, they recommend changes in police hiring procedures, in police training, to build and fund a sub-acute psychiatric facility, and to fully fund Project Respond.
Mayor Potter allocated $500,000 in funding for Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, and classes for all Portland police officers began on February 5, 2007. The training protocols, used in dozens of cities nationwide, are re-written by police training administrators leaving community members out of the process, a move which included canceling of the CIT oversight committee. According to police sources, all Portland Police Bureau officers received training by September 2008.
On February 8, 2007, the Chasse family filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Portland, Multnomah County, Tri-met and American Medical Rescue. Opening statements in Chasse v Humphreys are scheduled for March 2010. The family’s attorney stated from a second autopsy that James would have survived the beating if he had received medical attention.
The Oregon legislature passed Oregon House Bill 2765 on May 19, 2007, providing 24 hours of training for all Oregon certified officers on identifying persons with mental illness.
The Oregon legislature passed Oregon State Senate Bill 111 on June 28, 2007. The bill requires each county to create a process of investigation and review of use of deadly physical force by law enforcement officers.
On February 19, 2007, Multnomah County Commissioners changed jail policy to require injured and ill arrestees to be transported via ambulance to hospital and not by police car.
On January 30, 2007, the Portland Police Bureau policy changed to require ambulances to transport injured or ill arrestees to jail whenever possible.
On June 14 2007, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy Bret Burton was hired as a Portland Police Officer.
On August 6, 2007, the Mental Health Association of Portland announced the beginning of production of ALIEN BOY, a feature length documentary about the life and death of James Chasse. As of September 2009, the film has been fully funded by contributions from over 200 community members. Director Brian Lindstrom has interviewed over 60 persons associated with James, and the film team has begun post-production. The film will be ready for festivals in the winter of 2009.
On September 17 2007, the Mental Health Association of Portland hosted a peaceful rally at City Hall and presented the Mayor’s staff with a list of unanswered questions about what happened to James Chasse. Mayor Potter responded with a considered letter but was unable to answer many basic the questions stakeholders posed about what happened to James and who was responsible.
On October 11 2007, Federal Judge Dennis Hubel ruled to allow a wide ranging protective order in Chasse v Humphreys, making secret thousands of policy and financial documents of the City and County. Lawyers for the City and Judge Hubel cited the documentary film ALIEN BOY as a threat to officer safety and as an example why the protective order was required.
In January of 2008, Chief Rosie Sizer ended the long-running Chief’s Forum, the only public opportunity to speak with police leadership.
In March and April 2008, fiscal mismanagement overtook Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, requiring a $2.5 million emergency loan from Multnomah County and the state. Profitable portions of the agency were handed over to local competitors. Lead staff members were fired or resigned, but eight out of ten board members remained. The agency still exists, but in a diminished form; its financial and clinical sustainability is questioned by many mental health practitioners and county administrators.
On September 17 2008, the Mental Health Association of Portland held a peaceful demonstration at the Portland Police Bureau headquarters, noting that two years had passed without resolution to the case.
On October 27 2008, attorneys for the Chasse family released a closed circuit video from the Multnomah County jail of James Chasse, still alive but hogtied and screaming in pain, being carried into a jail cell. Police officer Christopher Humphreys can be heard saying “we tackled” Chasse. In September 2006 Humphreys told homicide investigators he had “shoved” Chasse.
On December 9 2008, Rosie Sizer announced the production of police training videos to highlight the danger of foot pursuits and the bureau’s “knock-down technique.”
On May 5 2009, Michael Schrunk declined to prosecute Christopher Humphreys after reviewing the jail video and considering the variance in his comments and his testimony to investigators in September 2006. At the same time Rosie Sizer stated the case would be turned over to the police bureau’s Internal Affairs Division for review.
On July 1 2009, attorneys for the Chasse family released portions of transcripts from dozens of sources, including of witnesses, police officers, and American Medical Rescue staff, policy documents, photographs, expert testimony.
On July 2 2009, the Chasse family accepted a settlement from Multnomah County for $925,000 for their part in Jim’s death.
On July 2 2009, county chair Ted Wheeler and state mental health administrator Richard Harris announced they had found funding to build and operate a sub-acute psychiatric facility. Central City Concern (CCC) was designated as the vendor for this project without an competitive open-bidding process. CCC’s director Ed Blackburn stated on July 2, 2009 the facility would be open by the Spring of 2010.
CURRENT STATUS AS OF SEPTEMBER, 2009 – THREE YEARS AFTER JAMES’ DEATH
Since September 17th 2006 there have been over 300 news stories about what happened to James Chasse. Updates about what happened to James remain front page news.
To date, no data has been released to show the effectiveness of CIT training – or any other new training or hiring policy – on officer behavior or performance.
To date, $925,000 has been awarded to the Chasse family from one of four parties. Over $100,000 has been spent by the city defending the case, now at $3700 per month.
To date, no one has been held accountable for James’ killing.