DOJ, PPB to sign agreement over 2006 death

From, March 23, 2014

Eds. note – the headline in this article is inaccurate, but is posted as written. On March 24 Judge Michael Simon will hear further testimony about whether the trial of Department of Justice v City of Portland should proceed. At some point after that hearing Simon will determine whether a trial should proceed. The City of Portland City Council agreed to sign the Agreement in November 2012. There were several other minor inaccuracies in this article which are changed for clarity’s sake.

After the Department of Justice found the Portland Police Bureau had a pattern of using excessive force in dealing with the mentally ill, an agreement over policy changes is expected to be signed on Friday.

But mental health advocates are concerned the agreement doesn’t do enough to prevent incidents from continuing.

In 2006, officers thought James Chasse was urinating in public. When officers approached, he ran away.

The schizophrenic man was then tackled and Tasered, and then died in a police car on the way to the hospital after a nurse at the jail denied police when they tried to drop him off.

The jailhouse video was given to the producer of a documentary on Chasse, ‘Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse’ which will be released on Tuesday. The producer said this case showcases the problems the city of Portland is not addressing.

His mother, Linda Gerber, told KOIN 6 News, “He just didn’t have a fair shake in life like most people do.”

Since Chasse’s death, PPB has taken steps to change, including the creation of a behavioral health unit.

All officers are now given training on how to handle people with mental illness.

“What we’re asking people to do is think about, is this worth chasing someone down for a potentially using force,” PPB Sgt. Pete Simpson told KOIN 6 News.

But mental health advocates and police said there needs to be a safe place for people in with mental illness to go in a crisis.

“The city recognizes through this agreement it may be something they need to do,” Simpson said. “We used to have one at a hospital. It was a crisis triage center, our drop off center for officers. That was very helpful.”

But the agreement states the city should set up a drop-off or walk-in center by mid-2013. There are no signs of that happening.

“I look at the city response or lack of response,” said Chasse’s friend Steve Doughton, “I just say it’s not Jim who’s crazy.”