Massive lawsuit filed against city over death in police custody


The family of a mentally ill man who died in police custody announced a sweeping lawsuit Thursday against the city, county, police, medical and Tri-Met officials.

Officers confronted James Chasse in Northwest Portland in September after they thought he was acting erratically. They eventually used force to take him into custody, and he later died in a police car after being taken from a jail cell to the hospital.

A grand jury later found the officers involved not guilty of any crimes in Chasse’s death and the city promised new inquiries into training procedures to deal with the mentally ill on Portland streets.

His death sparked outcry from advocates for the mentally ill and demands for reform in police and city procedures.

Chasse’s father James Chasse, his mother Linda Gerber and brother Mark Chasse are all named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the City of Portland, police, firefighters, paramedics, Multnomah County sheriff’s, American Medical Response and Tri-Met — which had transit officers on scene of the initial confrontation.

There was no damage amount specified in the suit, which said that would be determined at a trial.

The plaintiffs accuse defendants and specifically officers involved of crimes “so unreasonable and so arbitrary that it shocks the conscience.”

The suit claims defendants inflicted punishment, denied Chasse equal constitutional protection and discriminated against him because of his mental illness. They also said officials and the city were “indifferent” to Chasse’s death and negligent because of his medical care while in custody.

Plaintiffs claimed officers Kyle Nice, Bret Burton and Christopher Humphreys also conspired to cover up the alleged “assault” citing witness reports they said Chasse had cocaine on him — when what was actually taken into evidence was a bag of bread crumbs.

The suit seeks a jury trial, economic and non-economic damages awarded, along with better training and police reviews.