Police Commissioner proposes 2 officers in Chasse case be disciplined

From the Oregonian, November 3, 2009

Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman is proposing that two officers involved in the stop of James P. Chasse Jr. , who died in police custody in 2006, be suspended without pay for 80 hours each for failing to have Chasse transported by ambulance to a hospital, both before and after he was taken to jail.

The Pearl District intersection where James P. Chasse Jr. was knocked to the ground and handcuffed on Sept. 17, 2006.

The Pearl District intersection where James P. Chasse Jr. was knocked to the ground and handcuffed on Sept. 17, 2006.

Saltzman’s recommendation, which goes beyond the proposed discipline that Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer had suggested in September, was presented to police union representatives and the two officers involved this week.

Saltzman has recommended that both Sgt. Kyle Nice, and Officer Christopher Humphreys be suspended for their actions in the Chasse case. Like Chief Sizer, Saltzman agreed that Nice should be suspended for failing to require Chasse be taken to a hospital after he was stunned with a Taser, and for not briefing ambulance paramedics appropriately or fully about the police struggle and use of the stun gun against Chasse.

Saltzman, though, went beyond the chief’s recommendation, proposing discipline as well for Officer Christopher Humphreys, for failing to require medical transport for Chasse after police stunned Chasse with a Taser during the initial struggle, and after Multnomah County jail staff refused to book Chasse because of his injuries.

Both Nice and Humphreys have a right to a mitigation hearing, to challenge the proposed discipline.

Saltzman, who has been facing criticism for not taking a more forceful stance as police commissioner, said only, “I’ll have a written statement on it later today, but I’m not making any comments.”

Sizer’s spokeswoman, Detective Mary Wheat said, “We’re not commenting anything at all. That didn’t come out of our office. This is not coming from the Portland Police Bureau. I can’t comment for Commissioner Saltzman.”

Police union president Sgt. Scott Westerman, of the Portland Police Association, said he told the police commissioner he was “absolutely disgusted” by Saltzman’s proposal when he learned of it.

At the time of Chasse’s death, the police bureau nor the county had any written policy that required an ambulance transport sick or injured people from jail to a hospital. Since Chasse’s death, the county and police adopted a clear policy that restricts officers from carrying suspects whom the jail refuses to book because of their physical condition or injuries from jail to a hospital in a police car. Under the new policy, it’s up to jail staff to determine whether to transport the person to a hospital by ambulance.

Humphreys and Nice, and then-Multnomah County Sheriff’s Deputy Bret Burton, who is now a Portland officer, arrested Chasse, 42, on Sept. 17, 2006, after one of the officers said he appeared to be urinating in the street. Police said he ran when they approached. They chased him, knocked him to the ground and struggled to handcuff him.

Ambulance medics called to the scene did not take him to a hospital, saying Chasse’s vital signs were normal. But jail staff members refused to book him because of his physical condition. Chasse, who suffered from schizophrenia, died while being taken to the hospital in a police car. The medical examiner said the cause of death was broad-based blunt-force trauma to the chest.

In late September, Sizer released a statement saying she found that only Nice violated bureau policy, for failing to insist Chasse be taken to a hospital after police stunned Chasse, as bureau policy required in such instances.

Had Chasse received proper medical attention at the scene or been taken to a hospital right away, he probably would have lived, state medical examiner Dr. Karen Gunson said in a deposition filed in federal court this summer.

The autopsy found Chasse suffered 26 breaks to 16 ribs, some of which punctured his left lung. Gunson said he suffered 46 separate abrasions or contusions on his body, including six to the head and 19 strikes to the torso.

Chasse’s family has a civil-rights lawsuit pending in federal court that accuses Portland police officers and American Medical Response paramedics of using excessive force and denying Chasse appropriate medical attention. A trial is set for March 16. Multnomah County, representing jail staff, this summer settled its part of the lawsuit for $925,000.

READ – Everything about James Chasse