Saltzman on Chasse Settlement: ‘The Best Interests of Our City’

From the Willamette Week, May 11, 2010

Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman this afternoon apologized to the family of James Chasse Jr. after the city reached a $1.6 million settlement in a lawsuit over Chasse’s 2006 death in police custody.

“I believe this proposed settlement to be in the best interests of our city and our community, and it’s my hope that by settling this case, we can begin to heal from the tragic death of Mr. Chasse,” Saltzman said.

“Although nothing could ever make up for the loss of his tragic life, his death has led us all to take a serious look at the way we as a community treat the mentally ill,” added Saltzman, who is running for re-election on the May 18 ballot. “It has prompted the Portland Police Bureau to examine and improve many of its policies.”

Saltzman said he and Chief Rosie Sizer —who said today in a news release she was “relieved” by the settlement— attended a settlement conference Monday at federal court, where U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken negotiated the agreement.

Saltzman said as part of the agreement, the city will release documents from police internal investigations of Chasse’s death. Those documents have been under seal in court pending the civil trial, which was scheduled to begin next month.

Saltzman said some personal information must be redacted from the documents. He said that paperwork will be available “soon but not immediately.”

Saltzman said there were no other stipulations made as part of the settlement agreement, which still must be approved by the City Council. Saltzman said a vote could happen as early as next week. And Mayor Sam Adams said today in a news release that he is confident the council will approve the settlement.

City Attorney Linda Meng said the$1.6 million payout would be the biggest tort-claim settlement in city history. Records provided to WW by the city show Portland has paid out $3.8 million $4.8 million since 1995 to settle claims of excessive force by police.

UPDATE with comment from Chasse family:

The family of James P. Chasse, Jr., is confirming the information contained in various media reports that a tentative settlement has been reached with the City in their case against Portland Police Officer Christopher Humphreys, Portland Police Sergeant Kyle Nice, and other City defendants, arising out of James’ tragic death, on September 17, 2006.

If you will recall, in late 2006 and early 2007, the family undertook their own investigation looking for the truth as to what the police did to James and why he died. In order to get access to necessary information which was not deemed public, they filed their lawsuit in February, 2007. During the course of the lawsuit, the family’s attorneys took over 75 depositions of witnesses, Portland Police Bureau employees, and others, obtained over 40,000 pages of documents, retained a police expert and spoke with countless other individuals to assist the family in evaluating what caused James’ death on September 17.

During the case, the City and the other defendants sought a protective order which the family and the media opposed. Once the order was entered, the family repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, sought to vacate the order in the interest of allowing the public access to information which was subject to the protective order. As a result of the protective order and other considerations in the case, the family has not been able to share much of the information they have gathered during the litigation, including important training information and information about the City’s internal investigations into James’ death.

As part of the tentative settlement of the case, the family insisted upon and the City has agreed to vacate the protective order as it applies to training information relevant to James’ death, the City’s internal investigations into James’ death and any resulting reports or discipline. The family is in the process of organizing the information as part of a full release of it to the public and hopes to have it available soon. The family is hopeful that by sharing this information and telling the true story of what caused James’ death, they will be able to help the public in its quest for a more open and accountable Portland Police Bureau.

The family will be issuing a statement which will more directly comment on the tentative settlement once it is finalized. All that they can say about the additional details of the settlement at this time is that James would have wanted the truth to come out by settling the case now.

Lastly, the family wants to thank the community for the tremendous support it has provided the family over the past 3 and ½ years and to encourage the community to be ever vigilant in monitoring the Portland Police Bureau to ensure that it actually serves and protects us.