Multnomah commissioners approve $925,000 settlement with Chasse family

From the Oregonian, July 2 2009

Multnomah County commissioners today voted 4-0 to approve a record $925,000 settlement to end its part in the federal civil rights lawsuit brought 2 1/2 years ago by the family of James P. Chasse Jr.

“We believe this is a good business decision for the county and for the taxpayers of Multnomah County,” county attorney Agnes Sowle told the commissioners. She added that the settlement does not suggest wrongdoing by the county.

Chairman Ted Wheeler said he felt grateful that Chasse’s family agreed with the county, allowing officials to focus on improving mental health services.

“I think it allows us to get beyond the legal issues to improve our delivery of mental health care,” Wheeler said. ” In order to do that, we need to work together.”

Portland attorney Tom Steenson, representing Chasse’s family, said the settlement does not effect the pending lawsuit against the remaining defendants, including the city of Portland and American Medical Response, Inc.

The family is preparing for a March 16 2010 trial, accusing two Portland police officers of excessive force, denial of proper medical attention, and discriminating against Chasse because of his mental illness, Steenson said.

Chasse, 42, who suffered from schizophrenia, was chased by officers who said he appeared to be urinating in the Pearl District on Sept. 17, 2006. The officers knocked him to the ground and struggled to handcuff him. He suffered multiple broken ribs, some of which punctured his left lung, early in his encounter with the Portland officers and a sheriff’s deputy.

Ambulance paramedics who responded said Chasse’s vital signs were normal, and police drove him to the Multnomah County Detention Center.

He appeared to suffer a seizure in a holding cell. A jail nurse looked through the cell door window and told police the jail would not book Chasse. Portland police placed him in a patrol car, where he died on the way to a hospital. The cause of death: broad-based blunt force trauma to his chest.

The settlement would remove from the lawsuit the county and its employees, including then-sheriff’s Deputy Bret Burton, who was involved in the initial struggle with Chasse, and jail nurses, who are accused of failing to examine or treat Chasse or call an ambulance.

Before accepting the settlement, the Chasse family made sure the county made changes to ensure that ambulances – not law enforcement vehicles – are used to transport injured people to provide appropriate medical care.

Wheeler scheduled the vote as the county pressed forward with a 16-bed mental health crisis treatment center in Portland. The Portland Development Commission has set aside $2 million to redevelop the David P. Hooper Center as the county’s new mental health triage center. The city and county have pledged to split the $3 million operating costs. The state has also pledged support.

“We have an opportunity to begin a process of filling a big gap in the services to people who are experiencing mental health crises in Multnomah County,” said Joanne Fuller, director of the county’s Department of Human Services.

Wheeler said the new crisis center would be a “humane and cost-effective alternative” to taking someone with a mental health crisis to jail, or to the hospital.

Ed Blackburn, executive director of Central City Concern, said the new site for Hooper detox center should be available by April 2010. He said he’ll work to have the renovated Hooper facility available for the mental health crisis center by either late 2011 or early 2012.

Richard Harris, who heads the state Division of Addictions and Mental Health Services, said he supports the county’s move to steer mentally ill people to more appropriate care, which will likely reduce state hospitalization costs. He said similar crisis centers are needed across Oregon, not just in Multnomah County.

EXTRA – County settles in death suit,
EXTRA – Multco board approves $925,000 payment for Chasse’s family,