City of Portland: James Chasse’s beating death at hands of police was his own fault

Attorneys for the City of Portland will pursue an aggressive blame-the-victim defense strategy in the James Chasse case, according to court documents filed on March 29.

Chasse, who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia, was in Northwest Portland in 2006 when officers thought they saw him urinating in public. Terrified, he ran from police, but they caught up to him, tackled him, Tasered him, beat him, and kicked him, ignoring his pleas for mercy. Officers then took the dying man to jail rather than a hospital. Struggling for breath, bleeding from his mouth, his head covered with a blood-soaked “spit sock,” Chasse finally went into convulsions and died. He was 42 years old.

It took three years for the city to produce an investigation, and no Portland officer has been disciplined or held accountable for the death. Ensuing lawsuits by the family have led to a string of settlements prior to trial. Now, the only remaining defendants are the City of Portland, Officer Christopher Humphreys (who later beanbagged a 12-year-old girl), and Officer Kyle Nice (who recently pulled a gun on a civilian in a road-rage incident).

The newly filed documents include 50 pages of proposed jury instructions, in which city attorneys seek to hold Chasse responsible for his own death.

Lawyers want the jury advised that “Chasse’s pre-existing physical and mental condition, his resistance to the officers’ lawful orders and his inappropriate conduct is what caused his death.”

Further, they say, “The force used to gain physical control of Chasse and take him into custody was reasonable.” Officers also deny that their use of lethal force caused severe emotional distress.

Apprehending Chasse, who was not committing a crime, resulted in 16 broken ribs, internal injuries, a punctured lung, 46 contusions caused by kicks or punches, and, ultimately, his death.

But that level of force, claim the defendents, was not only reasonable, it was justifiable and “privileged.” They assert that they are not liable under federal or state law.

Oregon’s medical examiner, Dr. Karen Gunson, found that Chasse died of blunt-force trauma to the chest. Defense experts dispute this, offering a variety of other reasons for his death. One of these is “excited delirium,” a condition often used to explain deaths in police custody, even though it is not recognized in medicine or psychiatry. Another expert, Tillamook radiologist Dr. Michael Veverka, suggests that Chasse’s bones snapped because he had osteoporosis.

Defense expert Ken Katsaris, a law enforcement consultant from Florida, writes that “Chasse’s actions precipitated the police response.”

And that response, Katsaris adds, “should be expected by the police bureau and the public.”