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Friday, September 22, 2006

Beaten (or was it kicked) to death

It's late Friday afternoon -- time for all the news that the government doesn't want you to see.

Here's the latest from the powers that be on the poor sap who was killed by the Portland police last Sunday: He died of blunt force trauma to the chest. The medical examiner says it was accidental. That's interesting, considering that so far, I haven't heard that anyone from that office was present when the officers were, ahem, "interacting" with the victim, Jim Jim Chasse.

And what were the officers so busy hassling this guy for? So far, all I've heard was "strange behavior" and "suspicion of public urination." He didn't go quietly, and when (or after) he fought with the police, according to one eyewitness, "an officer repeatedly kicked the man somewhere in the upper midsection of his body." Another unflattering eyewitness account (with photo) is here.

If the victim in this case were a person of color, there'd be a riot going on right now, or at least a very public inquest would be scheduled. If he were a rich man from the West HIlls, somebody in uniform would have lost a job by now. But he's a not-rich white guy with a history of mental illness. So I won't be surprised if this story slowly fades away -- sort of like the night they shot Squeaky to death.

UPDATE, 9/23, 8:02 a.m.: Maxine Bernstein at The O has more this morning. Apparently the trauma was contact with the ground -- either when Chasse "fell" (sure, he walked into a door) or when the police jumped on him. There are also some comments in the story from the medical examiner. The explanation of how this was an "accidental" death rather than a "homicide" is particularly noteworthy for its shallowness. Oh, and Potter's on vacation in Germany.

Comments (25)

I'm glad the guy wasn't really wasted on some drug or another. That irrelevancy would have made it easier for the city to sweep his life under the rug.

Something about this place that really grates: the idea that you can get away with anything if someone is weak and enough and not too popular. When I first moved here, I dubbed Portland politics "perpetual junior high school". My opinion hasn't changed all that much over the years.

BIG systemic changes are in order, imho.

At least Squeaky was sitting in a stolen car at the time.

If this guy's only crime was public urination, the Boys in Blue will be writing a very large check to his estate.

If getting sprayed with mace costs the City $70k/person, just think what getting beaten to death in the Pearl should pay out.

Where is Tom Potter?

This is really horrifying. Sounds like the guy died from being kicked in the chest by the cop.

And the cops get away with sh*t like this every time. The death penalty for public urination, and without a benefit of a trial. Sick.

"If getting sprayed with mace costs the City $70k/person, just think what getting beaten to death in the Pearl should pay out.If getting sprayed with mace costs the City $70k/person, just think what getting beaten to death in the Pearl should pay out.


Who else will do what Alan Graf did?

There are street kids, and then there are the guys that have been living on the edge of poverty or homelessness for years, battling mental illness when the state decides to throw their asses on the street. When I see these old timers, my heart goes out to them... look in their eyes and you can see the rough life they've survived.

Now they have to deal with cruel, unhuman treatment from people who are supposed to protect everyone. God help them.

I'm with you 100% on this one, TK. For once.

I usually give the BiB (boys in blue) the benefit of the doubt, but this? All I can do is take a Zantac.

1. There is no plausible explantion for a police officer using lethal force on an unarmed non-threatening person. Murder is not an appropriate response to non-compliance.

2. Portland has thousands and thousands of people with delusional and psychotic disorders who have every right to walk the streets unafraid.

3. People with mental illness, their friends, families, neighbors, employers and caregivers must now carefully reconsider whether police officers can be called in a crisis. They join a growing community - African Americans, Spanish-speaking people, other minority people - who can no longer trust the Portland police.

4. We need an elected medical examiner.

The medical examiner says it was accidental. That's interesting, considering that so far, I haven't heard that anyone from that office was present when the officers were, ahem, "interacting" with the victim, Jim Jim Chasse.

This is the bit I don't get, and I share the question raised by Dan Handelman on the news this evening. When determining the cause of death, as near as I can tell, accident means just that: an accident, like falling off a ladder. If the death was caused by the actions of another person or other people, it's a homicide -- which does not necessarily mean murder in the criminal context.

In this context, "homicide" would simply mean (1) he didn't kill himself and (2) it wasn't the equivalent of falling off a ladder.

How this death could be ruled the equivalent of falling off a ladder is boggling.

"Gunson said that from a medical examiner's point of view, the officers involved did not know Chasse would die based on their actions."

How do you determine - via autopsy - what officers did or did not know... or intend at the time? Why does the supposedly objective, independent ME even have a point of view re: what the officers knew? Is the ME in contact with the cops before, during, or after?

And why are the cops so interested in "asking anyone who had contact with Chasse, or has knowledge of his actions prior to his contact with the police" to contact them?

Now that they can't blame the victim for being drunk or high - and therefore write him off for being to blame for his own demise - they're searching for some other excuse. ANY excuse.

Why else does it matter what he was doing PRIOR to his contact with the police? They had no knowledge of it, so whatever he might (or might not) have done can't be blamed for THEIR actions.

So sad and disturbing.

First, Police officers need better training in Conflict Resolution and Mental Illness. People have said this here in Portland for the past 10+ years yet I have yet to hear anything addressing the obvious issue.

Secondly, we need to be more selective. Portland seems to like men with violent tempers.

Third, We should be glad that there has not been a more violent incident such as a riot against the violence of the PPB.

Fourth, I respect the guys. They work hard and have a difficult job. Unfortunately, too hard for some...and they feel the need to make up for this by taking their anger out on folk they know have no backing; homeless, mentally ill.

"Who else will do what Alan Graf did?"

Gerry Spence?

Saturday's Oregonian prints a remarkable letter from James Jr.'s aunt. She connects the closure of mental health facilities and concurrent lack of community support as contributing factors. And she notes, "He wasn't homeless. He had a home, but his inner demons didn't conform to the same structure as most of the rest of us."

The issue of adequate training and resources for police is only part of the background for this tragedy. Adequate funding for mental health facilities that keep both patients and neighbors safe is also part of it. So is recognition of the fact that sometimes mental illness is intractable and beyond help in the community, just like any other physical illness can be long-term and/or fatal.

The letter is the second one here (at least for the moment -- it's OregonLive).

This has really come off the rails now. As I just wrote on FURIOUS nads!, when the James Jahar Perez inquest jury returned a decision of "homicide" in that case, officials went out of their way to explain the difference/distinction between a manner of death determination of "homicide" and the legal definition of "murder" in criminal prosecutions.

So, the operative question for the medical examiner would be: Why are you considering matters of intent and motive in determining manner of death, when that's not your job?

Perhaps a joint government/OHSU mental health assisted living center could be built for (oh, I don't know....) $57 million dollars or less?

Since the City of Portland and Multnomah County are blessed with so many people who care so very much about their fellow mankind (unlike those violent and homicidal beasts at the PPB), I'm sure we can all agree a facility of this kind is much more urgently required than additional streetcars, or MAX trains, or even (dare I say) a convention center hotel. If they can't find the funds to build a new facility, a friend at the county told me they have a beautiful building sitting in North Portland called "Wapato" with public art, a kitchen, televisions, and plenty of security. Or maybe their buddy, Homer, would be willing to reconfigure one of those affordable housing projects. Surely the City Council would have no objection to providing treatment to a vulnerable population near our Biotech/Health Care Triangle.

It's time for Portland's Progessive City Leaders to put up or shut up. The Boys in Blue were just the final straw that broke Mr. Chasse's back: the system failed him long before the police arrived on the scene.

Food for thought:

I was reading somewhere that, in Chicago, during Prohibition, the police became really reckless and trigger happy because they knew they were protected.

You know, I see Chief Rosie on the sidewalk just about every day when I leave work. If I see her today, I may have to ask her about this one.
I have always thought the Beaverton PD was bad but this is beyond rediculous.
I usually show some respect for the Men in Blue, but Im not sure its deserved any longer. Not in Portland anyway.

A wise man once sang

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain't no secret
(It ain't no secret)
It ain't no secret
(It ain't no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
Your American skin

I feel I should comment here as I think there some misunderstanding of terminology that was used. The ruling of "accidental" death is merely describing the "manner of death", of which there are basically 4: natural, homicide, suicide, and accidental. The line between homicide and accidental death is not as clear cut as you might think. For example, if Dick Cheney had killed that hunting partner of his, would it have been homicide or accident? Technically speaking, it can be either, or both. However, with public cases such as this one, they have to be careful not to inflame the public because they DO interpret more than they should. Ruling a death "accidental" does NOT absolve the officer of a crime, just like ruling it a "homicide" would not have condemned the officer. These terms have a different context in forensics than in the legal world. The determination of criminality, negligence, or intent is to be made in court.

The line between homicide and accidental death is not as clear cut as you might think. For example, if Dick Cheney had killed that hunting partner of his, would it have been homicide or accident? Technically speaking, it can be either, or both.

So in other words, the distinction is meaningless? If not, please describe, from a "forensic" point of view, what the distinction is. Forget about criminal law, forget about lawsuits. What is the difference between "accident" and "homicide" to a medical examiner?

No, the distinction is not meaningless. I'm just saying that it's not always clear cut. The opinion of intent is in there, but it only means as far as consistency goes. That is to say, the claim of "accidental" death means that the wounds were consistent with that. It does not exclude homicide. It just means that there wasn't sufficient evidence to claim it to be one.

Let's take Dick Cheney again as an example. If there were wounds from one gunshot and the person had died, you could rule it accidental because it is possible that it was. However, it IS still possible that Dick *wanted* to kill the person and was able to with one shot. You just can't support that from the available evidence (the wounds on the body). If however, there were multiple gunshots to the back of the head and several through the back, then it becomes very unlikely that it was accidental, and intent to kill was much more likely AND supportable, thus you would rule it homicide. Either way, the final determination of criminality is made in court. If the prosecution can show that the wounds described in the autopsy CAN indicate or support intent, then there is a case for homicide.

I think Gunson (Medical examiner) really did not want to see any motive involved in relation to the injuries inflicted on Chase...after all haymaker punches and kicks to the ribs and then hogtied when seven minutes had passed while Chase was unconcious as well as not breathing or not breathing properly is all intended to well...create an accident.

I thought our PoPo's were trained to avoid 'pack mentality' but looks like they embrace it..there is no critical thinking on duty here nor any sort of ethical responsibilty represented by these thugs we call police that day. This is not addressed to all cops...just the ones involved in the Chase incident and those that allowed it to happen.

Well, this has come to a grand jury hearing, and I testify on Tuesday. We will see how this is handled in court.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Beaten (or was it kicked) to death:

» How Is This An 'Accident'? from FURIOUS nads!
Picking up from a comment I posted over on Jack's item, the issue at hand now is the medical examiner's determination that the [Read More]

» The Making Of An 'Accident' from FURIOUS nads!
In an update, Jack points to today's Theo piece which includes further comment... [Read More]

» Weekend update from Jack Bog's Blog
It's Monday morning here in Portland, and if you're a weekday-only blog reader, there were a couple of stories over the weekend that you may wish to weigh in on. First, late Friday afternoon the medical examiner revealed that Jim Chasse, the mentally i... [Read More]

» Tale of two traumas from Jack Bog's Blog
When this guy died of blunt force trauma, an autopsy revealed that it was an "accident." When this guy died of blunt force trauma, an autopsy revealed that it was a "homicide." Amazing what autopsies can tell you.... [Read More]

» Go on home -- don't pay attention from Jack Bog's Blog
Almost 5 o'clock -- time for today's government statement to the media that it would rather not make. Today, Portland Police Chief Sizer is apparently going to say something about the James Chasse case.... [Read More]

» From "accident" to "tragedy" from Jack Bog's Blog
Today's the day that a Multnomah County grand jury will hear the story of the death of "Jim Jim" Chasse, an unarmed, mentally ill man, at the hands of Portland police on September 17. In theory, criminal charges could be brought against the officers i... [Read More]


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