Chief Sizer: Officers acted within guidelines in Chasse incident

From, September 23 2009

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer announced Wednesday that officers acted within policy when they chased and then struggled with a mentally ill man who died in police custody three years ago.

Sizer, however, recommended a sergeant be suspended for not directing an ambulance to take James Chasse to a hospital immediately after he was shot by a stun gun.

Chasse, 42, who had schizophrenia, was arrested following a foot chase in northwest Portland in September 2006. Officers said they pursued because they thought he had urinated outside and was on drugs.

In an interview with investigators after the incident, an officer said he shoved Chasse to the ground and then fell onto the sidewalk, past Chasse. But a video of officers talking at the jail after they brought Chasse in captures the officer telling a sheriff’s deputy “we tackled him.”

The video ends with police and jail sheriff’s deputies removing Chasse from jail. Chasse, who can be heard moaning, died while police were driving him to a hospital. According to autopsy results, Chasse suffered more than a dozen broken ribs, including some that punctured a lung and caused massive internal bleeding.

In 2006, a Multnomah County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing.

Sizer, in a statement Wednesday, said the bureau’s Use of Force Review Board found the officers’ foot chase and the force they used during the arrest were within bureau policy. But the board determined that Sgt. Kyle Nice should have required an ambulance to take Chasse to the hospital after police used a Taser on him. Sizer agreed with finding and said the sergeant should be suspended for an undisclosed amount of time.

Chasse’s family has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit, claiming he was the victim of excessive force and inadequate medical care. Tom Steenson, the family’s lawyer, declined comment on Sizer’s findings.

Jason Renaud, a friend of Chasse’s, said the ruling was a disappointment.

“I’m glad the chief released her ruling; I’m sorry it took her nearly three years,” Renaud told The Oregonian newspaper. “It’s unfortunate that nobody is really going to be held accountable for this man’s death.”

The slow pace of the internal review led to heavy criticism. A petition dropped off at City Hall last week called it “alarming and unwarranted.”

Sizer addressed the criticism in her statement: “I am respectful of the community’s desire for this information, but also recognize that speed cannot trump thoroughness and fairness in a review process.”