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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

From "accident" to "tragedy"

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 involved in the killing, but let's face it, given the history of how these things go in the Rose City (and we get at least a couple of them every year, it seems), the odds against an indictment are 1,000,000 to 1.

Already the only guy who would be pushing for criminal charges, District Attorney Mike Schrunk, is using words that don't sound very prosecutorial. From yesterday, in

He predicted that 12 to 15 witnesses could be called to testify, adding that his office had invited Chasse family attorney Tom Steenson to submit the names of anyone the family thought should testify.

“It’s a tragedy and we want to present all the facts to the grand jury,” said Schrunk.

Catch that? It's not an "incident," not a "homicide," not an "event." Already it's a "tragedy." You can almost hear the justifications ready to roll out. Just as you could when the medical examiner called the death an "accident," despite the statements of the eyewitnesses who said the police needlessly brutalized Chasse.

I wonder if Schrunk's got another killer cop defender coming in as an expert witness, as he has in the past. I wonder if the original police story of why they chased Chasse down -- "strange behavior" and "possible public urination" -- will morph into something different.

Of course, we'll never hear most of what goes down today. Grand jury proceedings are secret, and although the eywitnesses will get their say, they won't be around when the police and the medical tech who let Chasse die get on the stand. You'll never hear their story in their own words. Defenders of the police in these cases always say, "Don't rush to judgment. Wait until all the facts are known." The problem is that they never are.

Barring the unthinkable -- an indictment -- the only way the officers will have to answer tough questions in public will be if the Chasse family sues the city and the case goes to trial. If the officers were in the wrong, the city will offer the family a big bucks settlement to go away quietly. It would be a great gift to the residents of Portland if they didn't.

We need to watch the mayor like a hawk on this one. Former police chief, commissioner in charge of the bureau -- even if no crime was committed, it appears that some fundamental principles of community policing were disregarded in this case, and he ought to have to answer to the public for that. Reporters Maxine Bernstein of the O and Jim Redden of the Trib can hold his feet to the fire -- if they dare.

Comments (21)

Don't forget "Matt Davis at the Portland Mercury", Bojack.

Let's see:

- He was pissing in public
- Indecent exposure
- Evading police
- Under the influence
- Assulting a police officer

Sounds like the world is a better place without scum like this.

Besides, it was an accident. Case close.

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the O to hold anyone's feet to the fire.

"the only way the officers will have to answer tough questions in public will be if the Chasse family sues the city and the case goes to trial."

Actually there is also the alternative of a coroner's inquest, a device that has been used on rare occassions in the past, most notably in the Loyd Stevenson case during the 1980's. It can be a very effective tool for opening these types of matters to public scrutiny.

dear justadog -- maybe you should write your legislators and see if you can't get public urination and indecent exposure added to the list of crimes for which capital punishment is available. you're right, clearly the world is a better place without such vile criminals living and walking free. (end of sarcasm, beginning of soap-box preaching:) lord help you if you ever find yourself at the mercy of an officer empowered by the state to take your life if he feels he has to. i hope you come out a little better than chasse and maybe learn some compassion in the process.

Unless witnesses saw Mr. Chasse beaten after he was cuffed and otherwise subdued, you aren't going to find a crime. When someone is engaged in agressive resistance, which it appears Mr. Chasse was, impact weapons such as hands, feet and batons are within use of force guidelines. He bit an officer, and aggressively refused to comply with lawful orders. If you think this same scenario doesn't play out every day in Portland, just with less tragic outcomes, you're sadly uninformed. When people run and fight, the police chase and subdue. But when the fight is over, its over. No one will work with a guy that abuses a cuffed prisoner. You can let your imagination run wild, but the bottom line is that our city has the best educated, most well-trained, most seasoned police force in the state. And you'd have to look a long time to find one who doesn't think this was a tragedy for everyone involved.

The bottom line is that these cops need to be fired.

You can see Schrunk's response to the associations of the word "tragedy" here:

Would it be realistic for the police officers to simply release a suspect once he/she has demonstrated signs of mental illness?

Perhaps the cop should have said, "Please don't bite the police officers or we will escalate to deadly force." Or how about, "could you quit biting me so that I can call a psychiatrist to help you?"

What if he/she continued fighting, biting, or resisting? Would you really expect the cops to just back off in the hope that a suspect just chills out?

Don't count on an inquest meaning anything. In the James Jahar Perez case, Schrunk conducted a very skewed presentation to the inquest jury, along the same lines as what he presented to the grand jury in that case.

our city has the best educated, most well-trained, most seasoned police force in the state.

God help us. If they had to kill this man, they're chumps.

I don't want to sound all touchy-feely, bleeding heart liberal but I think a couple of cops who can't deal with a mentally ill person peeing in public without killing him should seek another line of work.

"What if he/she continued fighting, biting, or resisting? Would you really expect the cops to just back off in the hope that a suspect just chills out?"

No. I would expect them to not overreact for something as minor as allegedly peeing in public. And let's not forget that that hasn't even been proven (not to be crude, but was his fly open?) and that the cops' story changed after the negative toxicology report came back.

"When someone is engaged in agressive resistance, which it appears Mr. Chasse was, impact weapons such as hands, feet and batons are within use of force guidelines."

So is running away considered "aggressive resistance"?

The ME says he died from blunt force trauma. At least three witnesses say 3 large cops tackled the slender man aggressively. The cops say he wasn't tackled, but fell when one of them stumbled into him from behind (the "accident").

Now the O has released the autopsy results: "When police tackled James Philip Chasse Jr. to the ground and struggled to get him in custody, 16 of his ribs were broken, including 9 that were broken in the front and back of his ribcage, according to an autopsy report released by the family.

Some of the broken ribs punctured a lung and caused "intense" internal hemorrhaging.

The autopsy report, which declared Chasse's death in police custody on Sept. 17 an accident, also shows that paramedics who initially arrived were not told that Chasse had gone into respiratory arrest or that he was Tasered.

The paramedics left it to the police officers whether to take Chasse to the hospital or the jail, the report says. At the jail, a nurse sent Chasse to the hospital with two police officers, but Chasse died on the way."

It's clear the deadly force occurred before Chasse "fought back."

If you are standing close enough to a cop to have a conversation then something terrible has just happened or something terrible is about to happen. If you can't tell which, look to see if the cop is touching you.

So is running away considered "aggressive resistance"?

Though posed somewhat sarcastically, I think that's a really good question, and maybe at the heart of this.

If the guy had run away...well, so what?

What was so compelling that the officers had to take this particular guy down? Was he a threat to anyone? Had he threatened the officers?

He wasn't charged, after his arrest, with anything other than issues relating to resisting what's his crime?

Why was it so important to take this guy down? Where's the judgment?

ORS 163.145 defines "criminal negligent homicide" as being "when, with criminal negligence, the person causes the death of another person".

ORS 161.085 defines "criminal negligence" as meaning "that a person fails to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to be aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation."

The officers failed to inform paramedics upon their arrival that Chasse had been experiencing difficulty breathing.

The grand jury had at least be giving consideration to charges of criminally negligent homicide.

This is a long comment but there are so many important issues here I feel compelled to hit many of them. Apologies.

Yes, the odds of indictment are pretty slim. The DA controls what grand juries see and hear so naturally grand juries often become the DA's proxy.

A running suspect for which one has probable cause will be chased and taken to the ground for detainment. It doesn't matter if the suspect threatens anyone. He needs to be detained as a suspect, that's a major function of a police force.

At some point during the ensuing scuffle Chasse bit an officer. That's not passive resistance, it's assault. I'm not sure whether the bite occurred before or after the deadly blow(s). The issue is whether the officer's (officers'?) response is allowable. For this, one doesn't look at the result of the response but at the act itself.

For a suspect biting a cop, the cop respond can respond with a variety of methods, including physical blows, but not deadly force unless the cop reasonably fears death or serious physical injury from the bite. I'm not aware of the bite's delivery but if it exonerated the officers by being, say, to the jugular, it'd be all over the press. Seems safe to say the bite and the scuffle didn't justify deadly force.

So the issue is whether the physical blows constituted deadly force or not. This is where things get muddled. Here, too, I'm not exactly sure how the blows were delivered. The scuttlebutt is a knee to the back was delivered from a relatively high point downward while Chasse was on his stomach. If true, I'd call that deadly force as it's likely to produce serious physical injury or death. Also, Portland cops are taught to avoid striking the back/spine area. But so far the knee drop is just rumor.

That's the rough use of force framework but other issues arise.

The O reported today that the ambulance medic told cops they could decide whether to transport Chasse to a hospital. That's bizzare. I've never heard of a medic giving a wishy-washy response like that. Cops don't make medical determinations and sure as heck don't want to. They want the medic to say whether the guy needs a hospital or is OK for jail transport.

In the last few months the Multnomah County jail has been feuding with Portland Police regarding what level of medical conditions they'll accept. Chasse isn't the first guy who's been rejected by jail for medical reasons. If jail won't accept a guy who's too medically frail, why can't an ambulance take him to Adventist? And that might not even be a Portland problem. Rumor has it that jail initially accepted Chasse, then rejected him. If true, look for Portland to point even more fingers at Multnomah County during the inevitable civil suit.

Also, running suspects are too often subjected to a "johnnypile" where some overly aggressive cops tweak the suspect in the writhing mound of humanity. The tweaks aren't done in the name of compliance, nor are they done after cuffing, but they are superfluous and intended as retribution for "contempt of cop". Usually tweaking a suspect is relatively minor physically but it's always wrong and can get out of hand. Unfortunately, it's rather common in Portland.

Mental health care in Multnomah County, like a fair chunk of our criminal justice system, is broken. A proper fix doesn't mean just having cops take more classes. The Portland Police Bureau doesn't take mental health classes seriously, either at the management or cop level.

Nobody wanted Chasse to die. The idea that cops wanted him dead only shows people's absurd biases.

Portland Police Bureau has many excellent people and is generally a very good agency but this story is about particular people. Plenty of posts about the Chasse death use stereotyping as a source of fact. The "logic" works like this:

Cop X = Bad
QED: All cops are bad

This logic is incorrect when dealing with elementary reason and with races, but somehow OK with professions.

That said, Chasse's death appears to be the result of unauthorized deadly force, poor medical care and jail/police policy shenanigans. Hopefully we'll learn enough to see whether these conclusions are correct but it's doubtful we'll ever know enough. And that's another problem.

Anahit - thanks for your experienced words. The issue of how Jim was transported first to jail - with according to autopsy reports reported by Tom Steenson, the Chasse family attorney, 12 ribs either splintered or crushed - and then transported to jail and then to Adventist Hospital from downtown DURING RUSH HOUR IN A CRUISER BY POLICE OFFICERS 100 blocks away is key to determining a larger scope of incompetence or conspiracy.

Without fact-finding from an independent source made public – as Mayor Potter has called for – we can’t be certain “Nobody wanted Chasse to die.”

Visit the Mental Health Association of Portland for links to all articles on this story. 

And insist on facts.

Cops do an important job, and they deserve our support. We deserve that they protect the public. Death by policeman is just too common. Whether it's reaching for a mobile phone, dancing nude on top of a car, or not lying perfectly still when your're jumped on, it doesn't take much for police to use deadly force.

Of course, officers must protect themselves, but construction and logging are more dangerous than police work. You don't hear about workers in those jobs taking someone out for wielding a saw in a reckless manner.

As long as the DAs, police unions, city councils and county boards, and the public are willing to look the other way, members of the public who don't need to die will continue to lose their lives.

Hold on a minute. We may have let the cart go so far before the horse that we don't see it anymore.

Madam Hatter quotes the Oregonian on a few autopsy facts released by the family. Here's the link I find for it. (Anybody have an online link for a scan of the complete autopsy form?)

This is astonishing! Do any of you have a sense of how much force-power-energy it takes to fracture 16 human ribs with 9 having front and back fractures?

This is the sort of injury that comes from being hit by a speeding SUV on it's way to a gallery opening. Or, jumping from one of the downtown bridges and landing on the sea wall rather than the water.

Give the most violent "knee drops" to your boss after work and see how many ribs you can break. I'd wager you'll wear yourself out before you get to 16!

Let's see: Walk in the street. Get hit by an SUV. Pick yourself up. Stagger to the sidewalk. Stoop and writhe in pain. Cops turn the corner. They see odd person acting strange and bent over. Is that guy peeling? Give chase. A crowd of 'witnesses' gather. So on and so forth.

Experiment: Walk up to any big pickup or SUV on the street. Press your body into the front of the fender. How many of your ribs does the fender contact?

Let's see the whole autopsy report.

I sure hope the grand jury gets to hear an analysis from a trauma surgeon or two instead of just a pathologist.

Of course, this still doesn't begin to mitigate the seeming gross incompetence of the EMT.

two things police hate----cameras and newspapers.


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