Portland Police Custody Death Lawsuit Settled

From KPTV.com, May 11, 2010

The family of a mentally ill man who died in police custody has settled a lawsuit against the city of Portland for $1.6 million just weeks before the case was scheduled for trial.

City Commissioner Dan Saltzman publicly apologized to the family of James Chasse Jr. at City Hall during a news conference Tuesday to announce the tentative settlement, which still must be approved by the City Council.

“Although nothing can ever make up for the loss of Mr. Chasse’s life, his death has led us all to take a serious look at the way we as a community treat the mentally ill,” Saltzman said. “I think nobody would win by this going to trial. And certainly, the city’s image probably would be tarnished.”

Mayor Sam Adams said in a statement the tentative settlement “brings to a close a very troubling chapter in the relationship between the Portland Police Bureau and the residents of this great city.”

“The Chasse family has had to endure a very public examination of what is, at the end of the day, a very personal matter – the death of a loved one and the ability to know the facts, grieve the loss, and begin to move on,” Adams said.

Chasse, 42, who suffered from schizophrenia, died in September 2006 after he was tackled by police officers who chased him for allegedly urinating in public. He was also shot with a stun gun.

Chasse suffered 16 broken ribs and a punctured lung that led to his death while officers were taking him to a hospital in a patrol car.

Officers first took him to the Multnomah County jail but a nurse told them Chasse could not be booked in his condition.

Police Chief Rosie Sizer said she’s relieved by the ruling in James Chasse Jr.’s death, but felt “the individual officers have been unfairly demonized.”

“I believe that the Chasse family deserves compensation for their loss. I hope that James Chasse’s family also takes some comfort in the changes that the Portland Police has made,” Sizer said in a statement. “James Chasse’s death was a horrible accident and not a ‘beating death.'”

In a statement released on behalf of the Chasse family by their attorney, Tom Steenson, the family said the city agreed as part of the settlement to release documents that had been sealed during the lawsuit, including an internal affairs report.

The family said their attorneys took more than 75 depositions from witnesses, police and others, and obtained over 40,000 pages of documents.

“The family is hopeful that by sharing this information and telling the true story of what caused James’ death, they will be able to help the public in its quest for a more open and accountable Portland Police Bureau,” the statement said.

The family settled for $925,000 with Multnomah County for a sheriff’s deputy’s involvement in the death and for a reported $600,000 with American Medical Response Northwest Inc., the ambulance company that responded to the scene of the arrest.

For the $1.6 million payout, the city is self-insured for $1 million and a secondary insurance company will pay the other $600,000, Saltzman said.

Saltzman, who oversees the police bureau, had recommended last November that Sgt. Kyle Nice and Officer Christopher Humphreys be suspended for two weeks for their role in the death.

He said Tuesday that disciplinary action against both officers was complete.

The city also plans to release documents that had been sealed during the lawsuit, including an internal affairs report.

Deputy City Attorney Jim Rice said he and the attorney for the Chasse family, Tom Steenson, were working out the final release and any disagreements would be handled by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken as mediator.

City Attorney Linda Meng said it was the largest settlement for a lawsuit of its kind in her memory.

Saltzman said the settlement would come from the city’s insurance and not from its general fund. Both sides wanted to avoid a trial, he said.

Saltzman noted the police bureau has made a number of changes in its policy on the use of force and dealing with the mentally ill, including 40 hours of crisis intervention training for all officers.

When asked why it took more than three years to resolve the case, Saltzman said that would be determined by an independent review being led by City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade.

The federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Chasse’s family accused Portland police officers of excessive force and denying Chasse appropriate medical attention.

U.S. District Judge Garr M. King denied a city request for a change of venue in February. The case had been set for trial in June.