Man in custody died of blunt force trauma to chest

from the Portland Tribune, about September 23, 2006

The Oregon State Medical Examiner has determined that the 42-year-old man who died in Portland police custody Sunday died as a result of a broad-based, blunt force trauma to his chest.

James Phillip Chasse died after struggling with police who arrested him near Northwest 13th Avenue and Everett Street.

In announcing the results of the autopsy, the Medical Examiner also ruled Chasse’s death as accidental. Toxicology test results were negative.

The police are investigating Chasse’s death as a homicide. The Multnomah District Attorney’s Office has a policy of presenting all officer-involved deaths to a grand jury.

According to police spokesman Det. Paul Dolbey, Chasse died while receiving medical treatment after being taken into custody by Portland police Sgt. Kyle Nice, 39; Portland officer Christopher Humphreys, 31; and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brett Burton, 26.

The officers first came into contact with Chasse around Northwest 11th Avenue and Northwest Everett Street. The details of that initial contact are still under investigation, Dolbey said, but reportedly Chasse fought violently with the officers before they could take him into custody.

At one point, Dolbey said, one officer used a Taser on Chasse in what is called the “drive-stun” mode. That allows an officer to give a suspect a localized shock (none of the Taser darts are shot) to help move him or her into a certain direction.

After that, the officers requested medical attention because Chasse was having breathing problems, Dolbey said.

Three people who witnessed the arrest have filed complaints with the city alleging the officers used excessive force. One of the complaints said the police kicked Chasse in the chest. All three complaints said Chasse passed out and was unconscious for several minutes.

After a medic arrived on the scene and examined Chasse, he was taken to the Multnomah County Detention Center, where he again had trouble breathing. So he was taken to a local hospital and lost consciousness on the way. The transporting officers, and later, medical personnel tried to revive him. Chasse was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The police are asking anyone who has information to contact Detective Lynn Courtney at 503-823-0451 or Detective Jon Rhodes at 503-823-0459.

Chasse’s family are also asking anyone who witnessed the arrest to contact their attorney, Tom Steenson, at 503-221-1792.