The family of James Chasse Jr. is suing the police offiers and others it claims are responsible for his “inhumane and tortured death,” the family’s attorney announced this afternoon.
Chasse’s father, James Sr, sat silently in a blue bowtie alongside civil rights attorney Tom Steenson at a press conference at the World Trade Center on SW 2nd Ave —refusing public comment to assembled TV, radio and newspaper reporters.
“The family would prefer not to be here,” said Steenson. “But they are.”
The cops’ “extreme, excessive, brutal and deadly physical force” caused Chasse’s death, according to a federal suit filed today. Officers then deliberately ignored his injuries and encouraged others to do the same, discriminating against him because of his mental illness, the suit alleges.
Chasse was beaten and Tazered until he was unconscious by two Portland Police Officers and a Sheriff’s deputy opposite the Blue Hour restaurant at NE 13th and Everett on September 17 last year, after the officers spotted him urinating in the street. The incident was initially glossed over by local media until the Mercury obtained damning cell-phone pictures of the officers and paramedics casually standing by as Chasse lay hog-tied and dying on the ground.
Instead of being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, Chasse was driven to jail in a police car, where he languished in a cell for over an hour until a jail nurse looked through his cell window and suggested he be driven to hospital. Chasse died en-route.
“The officers engaged in a deliberate coverup of the brutal assault,” said Steenson, alleging the officers lied to witnesses about finding cocaine on Chasse, and said he was a “transient” with “14 cocaine convictions,” despite finding only breadcrumbs and an ID card with his permanent address on it at the scene.
The suit also questions the validity of the state medical examiner’s report, saying a second autopsy paid for by the family suggests injuries not registered in the initial report. Among these are a broken left clavicle, an injury probably “caused by a strike, a severe blow, most likely a kick,” said Steenson.
In addition to the lawsuit, Steenson issued a two page list of recommendations to the Police Bureau, demanding changes to prevent similar incidents happening again. The recommendations include prohibiting officers from using their hands and feet “to make impact strikes to a person’s head and other vital areas,” and changing foot pursuit policy so that officers only chase those posing a threat. “Some people might even get away, but they won’t get hurt unnecessarily,” Steenson said.
“There is no question that the number one question on the minds of this family is to get the Portland Police Bureau to make much needed changes,” he added.
In addition to the officers involved, Portland Police Officers Christopher Humphreys and Kyle Nice, and Sheriff’s deputy Bret Burton, the suit is filed against the unnamed paramedics who signed off on Chasse’s injuries instead of sending him to hospital at the scene. The fire department has refused to make their names public but will face a subpoena demanding their names.
“We have made more than fifty public records requests,” said Steenson. “But a great deal of the information, we can’t get.”
The suit also cites the Police Bureau, Portland Fire & Rescue, Trimet, American Medical Northwest—the county’s medical services contractor—the City of Portland and Multnomah County as defendants. None of those named in the suit—which does not specify damages sought—were available for comment this afternoon.