Two attorneys representing the family of James Chasse presented their trial case Monday, outlining for local media why their client died in police custody Sept. 17, 2006.
“What you will find is that the cover-up did kill James Chasse because it kept him from going to the hospital,” said trial lawyer Tom Schneiger.
Chasse’s other lawyer present at the Ace Hotel event, Tom Steenson, reaffirmed it another way, saying that it was not the use of force that killed him, but rather the cover-up and subsequent layers of police deception that were the culprits.
“If there hadn’t been a cover-up by the police, James Chasse would be alive today,” said Steenson.
Speaking next to large informational cut-outs, the lawyers who obtained a $1.6 million settlement from the city of Portland in May thoroughly presented their findings of how Chasse was treated for the approximate 60 minutes he was in police custody—all the way to the third time he stopped breathing and died on the side of the road.
Provided for media were three discs containing thousands of pages of autopsy reports, use of force reports, police protocol and training documents, even text messages shared between one of the officers at the scene and his commanding officer.
Also included was the sworn testimony from 12 witnesses, many of whom saw the 42-year-old Chasse get violently tackled by police, according to the lawyers.
“It was a brutal beating. He was kicked repeatedly, he was stomped on, he was kneed, he was struck in the face and in the head, and he was tasered repeatedly,” said Steenson.
Chasse, who suffered from schizophrenia, died of broken bones that punctured his lungs after attempting to avoid police in the Pearl District.
Much of the press conference dissected the apprehension of Chasse and the ensuing “cover-up” his lawyers were ready to prove in federal court had the case gone to trial.
According to witness description, officer Chris Humphreys used a “flying tackle” to take down Chasse at Northwest Everett Street and 13th Avenue.
Witnesses said Chasse did not move for several minutes and Schneiger contends the cover-up began almost immediately.
When medics responded on scene and saw the disoriented and beaten Chasse they asked if there was any trauma, any hard takedown and if he had stopped breathing at any point.
All of this information was withheld by officers at the scene, the lawyers argued.
Also withheld was that police had used a Tazer several times on Chasse—an important bite of information because both police bureau and AMR medical policy requires any Tazer victim be transported to a hospital.
During the medical analysis, Schneiger said Officer Humphreys presented a sandwich bag to the on-scene sergeant with what he claimed to be Chasse’s rock cocaine inside.
Another witness on scene testified they were told by a police officer that Chasse had 14 prior drug convictions when in fact police had yet to identify who he was.
Chasse had no prior drug convictions and the drug evidence was never found.
“Well why would they say that–why would (the evidence) disappear–because they wanted to show that this man was not worth the paramedic’s or anyone else’s consideration,” said Schneiger.
“And you know what–it worked.”
Schneiger and Steenson alternated for an hour riddling the non-existent defense with additional examples of cover-up ammunition and police negligence but eventually settled on one closing statement: “Why are these officers still working—why weren’t they terminated?” asked Steenson.
Their questions continued: Why did it take the police bureau three years to complete their internal investigation—and once it was complete, why was only one independent witness of over a dozen questioned by internal affairs?
“What standard do we expect our policemen to live up to? And if the standard is, that the things that we shared with you today, about the deception, the lies, the planting of the drugs and the cover up is OK, then what does that say to public safety?” said Steenson.
“What does that say to the next person walking down the street, minding their own business?”