Remembering James Chasse After Two Years

From, September 16 2008

About a dozen people gathered outside Portland’s central police precinct Tuesday, to mark the anniversary of the death of James Chasse. He was a Portland man with mental illness who died after a struggle with police two years ago.

James Chasse was in Northwest Portland when officers thought they saw him urinating in public.

They called him. He ran. Eyewitnesses — and one cop — say officer Christopher Humphreys tackled Chasse and fell on him.

Humphreys remembers it differently. He says he pushed Chasse and then flew over him. Either way, there was a struggle and Chasse ended up with 26 broken bones and a punctured lung.

He was taken to jail, and then to the hospital on the advice of a nurse, but died on the way.

Jason Renaud is a volunteer with the Mental Health Association of Portland.

Jason Renaud: “James Chasse died because of a series of mistakes caused by the Portland Police Bureau, by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department, by the Multnomah County Jail, by the Multnomah County Health Department, which manages the health division here at the jail, by American Medical Rescue, which provided the ambulance service and by Tri-Met. Those are the parties named in the suit by the family.”

That lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in February.

Chasse’s death precipitated calls in Portland for health workers to deal with those with mental illness, rather than cops. Indeed Portland Police now put officers through a 40 hour crisis intervention course – to teach them how to look for signs of mental illness, and how to calm a situation rather than escalate it.

The idea has been applauded. But it hasn’t widely caught on.

Tracy DuMass took the train from Eugene to attend the memorial. She wants her local cops to get the same training.

Tracy DuMass: “I would say they’re moving in Eugene, but I’d say slowly. Too slowly for me. Recently, my friends neighbor was tasered and it was without cause we believe and these instances need to stop.”

She says the neighbor was mentally ill and needed help, not 50,000 volts.

Meanwhile, local filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, is making a movie about James Chasse. He hopes the film will reveal the person behind the headlines.