Sergeant violated EMS policy in Chasse death, report finds

From, September 23 2009

More than three years after the death of James Chasse in police custody, the Portland Police Use of Force Board completed its review of the case and concluded that, in most respects, police followed department policy.

James Chasse died while in police custody after an encounter with police in Old Town on September 17, 2006. Officers said Chasse appeared to be urinating outdoors and when he tried to get away they tackled him.

The Police Bureau was strongly criticized for its handling of the case.

In July 2009, the Multnomah County Commission voted to pay the family of James Chasse $925,000 as a settlement to a civil lawsuit filed over the mentally ill man’s death in police custody.

On the three-year anniversary of Chasse’s death, a citizen’s group recently launched a petition drive to pressure the bureau to complete its investigation.

After a three-year review, the bureau released a three-page statement Wednesday, including these conclusions:

“The UFRB concluded that the initiation and termination of the foot pursuit of Mr. Chasse did not violate any Bureau policy and that the force used during the struggle to stop, control and handcuff Mr. Chasse was within policy. As soon as the officers observed Mr. Chasse showing signs of medical distress, officers called for paramedics. At the time Mr. Chasse was transported to jail, officers had been told by paramedics Mr. Chasse was medically stable. There is no evidence in any report or witness statement that caused members of the UFRB to conclude that any officer at the scene knew or should have known that Mr. Chasse had suffered a serious physical injury.”

“However, the Board concluded that the sergeant at the scene did not adhere to the Bureau’s directive requiring EMS to transport to the hospital individuals in certain situations following Taser deployment. Chief Sizer agreed with the Board’s findings and in regard to the recommendation concerning the post Taser medical transport issue, found that the sergeant involved is subject to the disciplinary process in the form of a suspension.”“In addition, the Bureau’s training and directives have since been reinforced in an effort to ensure that medically fragile individuals are transported in an ambulance and not a police car. The tragic death of Mr. Chasse prompted additional policy changes, both in the Police Bureau and in officers’ contact with paramedics and the Multnomah County jail system.”

The report also addressed the lengthy review process. Chief Sizer issued this statement regarding the three-year time frame for the review: “I am respectful of the community’s desire for this information, but also recognize that speed cannot trump thoroughness and fairness in a review process.” she said. “I am also appreciative of the commitment of all those involved—especially the community members who volunteered so many hours of their time to ensure a comprehensive review was completed.”

Shortly after the UFRB report was released, the attorney for the family of James Chasse responded, noting that a protective order, sought by the City of Portland and imposed over the objections of the family, barred family members from commenting on details of the investigation:

“The Chasse family and their attorneys are very sorry that they cannot comment on these events at this time. However, they are taking immediate steps to ask the Court to set aside the protective order which the City and Chief Sizer have violated today by their release of documents and information which are subject to the order.”

The Portland Police Bureau did not disclose the length of the suspension for the sergeant who violated the department’s EMS policy.