Letter to the Editor – Grieving in-custody death

From The Oregonian, September 23, 2006

I am writing in response to the [stories] about my nephew, James P. Chasse, Jr. (“Police name officers who arrested man who died,” Sept. 20, and “Witnesses shocked by force police used in encounter,” Sept. 21). He died while “in custody” after he had been apprehended by the Portland police and taken to the downtown detention center.

James Jr. was my brother’s son. He was born into a loving family with adequate resources and support. Unfortunately, since his teenage years, he had been handicapped by a psychotic mental disorder. He was in and out of halfway houses and acute care settings with various medical/psychiatric diagnoses and treatments prescribed.

My brother tried his best to maintain contact with James Jr., volunteering hundreds of hours at downtown missions that serve these folks, trying to better understand the struggles his son was facing.

The newspaper listed James Jr. as a “transient.” 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.

Since the mainstreaming of chronically mentally ill people in the 1970s, social structures have been stressed with attempting adequate health care and monitoring while maintaining individual freedom. Our society made the choice to proceed with less than adequate mental health services, and we can see these people frequently in a state of hygienic and personal disarray.

Our public safety personnel are supposedly well trained in identification of these individuals’ needs and procedures for safety for all involved with troublesome events. The life of James Jr. was a sad struggle. But how much sadder for this man to have died “in custody.”