Testimony for City Council, July 28

Testimony presented to the Portland City Council, July 28 in response to the OIR Report to the City
of Portland Concerning the In-Custody Death of James Chasse

From the Mental Health Association of Portland – www.oregonarchive.org


In general, the Mental Health Association of Portland supports and appreciates this report on what happened to James Chasse. It’s what we expect from a diligent police commissioner in response to a critical incident.

The OIR report has a tiny, potent argument, designed to defuse criticism surrounding the brutal death of James Chasse.

The argument is this, “it must be recognized that the Portland Police Bureau of 2010 is not the Portland Police Bureau of 2006.”

Nice rhetoric, perhaps meant to illuminate the wound to bureaucracy, but entirely superficial to the interest of justice. The interest of justice remains fixed on September 16, 2006.

In review, police officers were not held accountable. No indictment, no crime, no personal accountability. The mayor, the police commissioner, the police chief were irrelevant, without powers, without the ability to act.

Almost four years and no one has been held accountable for the brutal death of James Chasse. No human being. No person. No person who was directly responsible for his death. No person who tackled him, kicked him, punched him, Tasered him. No person named Kyle Nice. No person named Bret Burton. No person named Christopher Humphreys.

No persons.

Until you have the powers to act publicly and decisively in response to a critical incident – you cannot give assurance what happened to James Chasse will not happen again.

Understand this – James Chasse had a mental illness. That’s why our organization has followed this case for over three years. But Jim did not die from his mental illness. It played no part in his death. To blame him, to blame his illness, to blame the mental health system for his death is intentionally misleading.

What happened to James Chasse was not a failure of the system, of the institution, of the city. It was an unforgivable failure of three individual officers. You’ve tried to shoulder some of this burden, because of a police contract, concern over a civil lawsuit, because of your personal uneasiness with authority, because of the antagonistic relationship between the police and civilian oversight. But it’s not a burden to be shouldered – it’s a stain.

What Humphreys, Burton and Nice did is unforgivable. They will never be trusted as police officers. Their colleagues who work with them are all stained. When you speak to their right to privacy, to a career, when you represent them legally, you are stained.

The task of a politician is to give a human voice to law, to policy and procedure, to speak to the community about the actions of the city. You and your predecessors were ill-advised to be silent. That duration of silence eroded trust and confidence. That seems to be changing – and accepting the recommendations of the Report to the City of Portland Concerning the In-Custody Death of James Chasse is really your first step forward.