Sizer recommends sergeant be suspended in Chasse case

From the Portland Tribune, September 23 2009

Chief concluded that bureau directives involving Tazer use were not followed

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer is recommending that Sgt. Kyle Nice be suspending for not ensuring that James Chasse was transported to a hospital after being Tazered when he was arrested a little more than three years ago.

Chasse died around two hours after the arrest. He was initially handcuffed and driven to the Multnomah County Detention Center in a police car, but jailers refused to accept him because he appeared injured.

Chasse died in a police car while being driven from the jail to a hospital.

The Portland Police Bureau’s Use of Force Review Board concluded that bureau policies concerning Tazer use required that Chasse be transported to a hospital instead of jail. Sizer agreed with the conclusion and has recommended that Nice – the sergeant on the scene – be suspended.

The recommendation begins an internal bureau process that allows Nice to challenge the recommendation. Sizer will discuss her recommendation with Portland Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman as part of the process.

The board did not find that any other bureau policies were violated during the arrest, including those governing the use of excessive force. Although an autopsy found that Chasse has 26 broken or fractured bones and a punctured lung, the board found the amount of force used to subdue Chasse was within bureau policies.

The board also concluded that none of the arresting officers knew or should have known that Chasse was seriously injured.

Sizer agreed and has not recommended any other officer by disciplined.

The Chasse family, which is suing the city, the police bureau and its officers in federal court, said through their attorney that they hoped the release of information from the use of force report could lead to more documents made available in the case.

The family is battling a judge’s protective order that blocked the release of some police bureau documents in the case. Attorney Tom Steenson said in a statement Wednesday that the family would ask the judge to lift the order now that Sizer has released some of the information.

“If the court grants our renewed motion, we will then be in a position to release documents and information about the police bureau’s investigations into James’ death which the city does not appear to be releasing and to comment, like the city and Chief Sizer have done today, on those investigations and related matters,” Steenson said in the statement.

The Portland Police Association, which represents the officers, praised the release of the board’s decision and said it reinforced the belief that most officers acted according to policy at the time.

“The findings of the investigation released reaffirm our belief that the officers involved were within policy as it relates to their use of force in this incident,” said Scott Westerman, association president. “As more documents in this case are made available, we are confident the findings of this investigation will be affirmed, and the appropriateness of the officers’ actions will be increasingly self-evident.”

Sizer declined comment on the finding and her recommendation because a federal wrongful death lawsuit is pending in the case. It was filed by Chasse’s family and set for trial next March.

Chasse’s death in custody has been controversial since it occurred on Sept. 17, 2006. He was chased and knocked to the ground by police who thought he had been behaving suspiciously. Police and witness accounts of the pursuit and arrest varied widely, with police saying they acted reasonably and some witnesses claiming they tackled and beat Chasse, who fought back violently.

In a statement released Wednesday, Sizer said she was aware that the internal review of the case had taken a long time, but that it was complicated by a Multnomah County grand jury review that cleared the officers, an Internal Affairs Investigation and the lawsuit.

The Use of Force Board originally met in October 2008 and again on Sept. 16 of this year.