Independent report criticizes police Chasse investigation

From, July 23, 2010

photo by Jamie Marquez

photo by Jamie Marquez

City Council will hear public testimony on the OIR report on the Portland Police Bureau’s investigation about the death of James Chasse at 6 PM on July 28 in Council Chambers.

An outside consultants report had some sharp criticisms for the way in which Portland police investigated the 2006 death of James Chasse Jr.

The outside report was requested by City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade and prepared by the OIR Group. She released the report Friday.

READ – Report to the City of Portland Concerning the In-Custody Death of James Chasse (PDF)

James Chasse died while in police custody after an encounter with police in Old Town on September 17, 2006. Officers said Chasse appeared to be urinating outdoors and when he tried to get away they tackled him.

Medics were called to the scene and Chasse showed normal vital signs, then officers took him to the Multnomah County Detention Center according to officers.

According to the autopsy report, a nurse at the jail advised officers to take Chasse to the hospital.

Police said he died as they were transporting him there, according to the report. The autopsy revealed that Chasse suffered 26 rib fractures and a punctured lung. The autopsy concluded the death was caused by blunt force trauma to the chest.

“The Internal Affairs Division interviews were thorough and fair,” a report summary said, “but the investigation suffered significant delays because of the length of time Homicide took to complete its investigative book and forward to IAD, staffing shortages at IAD, and Multnomah County‚Äôs decision to not let its employees be interviewed by investigators until after they had been deposed in the civil case.”

The report’s criticisms include:

    — Internal Affairs investigators did not pay enough attention to jail videotape.

    — There was a lack of attention of bureau employees at the scene, which included allegations of inaccurate information about Chasse given to a civilian.

    — Failure to interview all of the officers who restrained Chasse and carried him.

    — Failure to follow up sufficiently on the delay in taking Chasse to jail while involved officers completed paperwork.

    — Failure to try and question jail employees about statements made by the involved officers.

The report did have some praise for the bureau.

“First, it must be recognized that the Portland Police Bureau of 2010 is not the Portland Police Bureau of 2006,” the report said. “As we discuss more fully in our Report, critical systemic reform, much arising out of this incident, has improved the investigative processes, policies, training, and review that we critique.”

“Second, unlike most comparable police agencies, PPB has a long regarded tradition of opening up its vault of articles and personnel to exacting outside review.”

The report said the Portland Police Bureau was “head and shoulders” above other police agencies in opening itself up to outside review, learning from what happened and then implementing suggested changes.

The consultant’s had what it called “key recommendations” for how the Chasse investigation was handled:

    — Take the necessary steps to interview involved officers contemporaneously with the incident.

    — Conduct face-to-face interviews with civilian witnesses soon after the incident.

    — Address the need to have private ambulance personnel cooperate with the in-custody death investigation.

    — Document the transport of officers from the scene;

    — Add Internal Affairs personnel to the roster of those expected to respond to the scene of the incident.

READ – Chasse review released, Portland Tribune, July 23, 2010
READ – Outside consultants find gaps in Portland police review of James P. Chasse Jr.’s death in custody, the Oregonian, July 23, 2010
READ – Auditor Releases Chasse Report (Updated With Comment From Mayor Sam Adams), Willamette Week, July 23, 2010
READ – City Releases Outside Audit of Chasse Case, Portland Mercury, July 23, 2010
READ – Press release from the Auditor’s office about the release of the OIR report on James Chasse