Tag Archives: James Chasse

Chasse’s champion

Attorney Tom Steenson talks about the landmark wrongful death case and how little may actually change on the police force as a result

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

Tom Steenson doesn’t count too many police officers among his close friends. In fact, he has to think back to his late grandfather, who was one of two deputies for Clackamas County back in the 1930s and 1940s, to even get close. But his relationship with the Portland Police Bureau spans more than three decades, dating back to his days as a newly minted law school grad when he filed his first suit against the bureau. Since then, he has established himself as the state’s premier litigator in police misconduct cases. By some estimates he averaged about five lawsuits against the city per year. In some years, it could spike to a dozen or more, he says.

But that all changed when he took on the case of James Chasse Jr. That case, more than all that came before, was a personal and professional watershed for Steenson, who represented the Chasse family and helped secure a record $1.6 million settlement from the city for the wrongful death of their son. On Sept. 17, 2006, Chasse was chased, tackled, Tasered and beaten by police under suspicion that he was urinating in public. He was denied medical care on the scene and taken to the jail, which refused to accept him in his condition. He died en route to the hospital, the cause of death being “blunt force trauma,” according to the medical examiner.

The real cause, according to Steenson and fellow Chasse attorney Tom Schneiger, was the cover-up that began moments after Chasse was tackled. Outraged at the lack of discipline to come from the case, Steenson and Schneiger, on Oct. 18, released more documents about the case — a condition made as part of the settlement. According to the attorneys, the documents indicate the officers went to work immediately to cover their actions by withholding critical information, making false statements to witnesses and even crafting a scenario that painted Chasse as a drug user, a repeat offender and a transient, none of which was true.

With the Chasse settlement concluded, Steenson has taken on a new case, representing the family of Aaron Campbell. Campbell was shot by police in January after a family member made a distress call saying he was armed and suicidal. Campbell was reportedly distraught over the death of his brother earlier that day. He was shot in the back by police. He was unarmed. It is a case eerily similar to the death of Raymond Gwerder, whose family Steenson represented in 2007, securing at the time a record $500,000 settlement from the city for the wrongful death of their son.

In October, Steenson was awarded the Arthur H. Bryant Public Justice Award by the Oregon State Bar, recognizing his three decades in civil rights advocacy.

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Extra! Extra!

Street Roots vendors will be out in force tomorrow with a new edition of Portland’s finest independent media, if they do say so themselves! Here’s a peek at what will be served up Friday morning for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Chasse’s champion: Joanne Zuhl does an in-depth interview with attorney Tom Steenson about the landmark wrongful death case of James Chasse, and how little may actually change on the police force as a result.

Time’s up at the West: Amanda Waldroupe goes inside the West Hotel where low-income high-barrier residents have less than a month left to find new homes, fearing they may end up on the streets. Our editorial calls for changes to prevent ensure tenants get relocated without the threat of homelessness.

Day of Homelessness Awareness: Find out how the faith community is organizing around the city to bring awareness to the homeless, and why this event isn’t just window dressing. The faith-based community delivers much needed services day-in and day-out to fill gaps in a slumbering system.

The unmitigated gall of cartoonist Ted Rall: In editorial cartoons and columns, he lambastes liberals and conservatives alike. His latest move? Calling for revolution. Now. Rosette Royale interviews the controversial journalist.

Vancouver, B.C., may endorse new global drug policy: Vancouver could soon become the third Canadian city to join the international movement to come to terms with the real damage the war on drugs has reaped, and how harm-reduction policy is the future.

Plus, poetry from the great Jay Thiemeyer, commentary and artwork from the streets of Portland, where you’ll also find the best vendors west of the Mississippi. Get your copy Friday, and as always, thank you for your support!

James Chasse action on 13th (James) & Everett

Street Roots was tipped off about 10 minutes before 5p.m. about an action to protest police brutality at the corner of  NW 13th & Everett, where James Chasse first came into contact with police on September 7, 2006. Chasse, a mentally ill poet and musician, died in police custody after an altercation with the police. During that altercation, Chasse was tackled to the ground, punched, kicked, Tasered repeatedly and hogtied by police— resulting in 16 broken ribs, a number of abrasions, a broken shoulder, and having both lungs punctured. No criminal charges were made.

The group took over the intersection by taping off the intersection with caution tape, and dragging dumpsters out into the street. The action forced traffic to redirect itself.

Someone also changed the street sign (pictured above) to read James and Everett.

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Matters of life or death

Mental health activist Jason Renaud weighs in on the latest shooting by police of unarmed citizens in crisis

By Israel Bayer
Staff Writer

Jason Renaud had been an advocate for the rights of people with addiction and mental illness for more than a decade when a 42-year-old named James Chasse was killed at the hands of police officers in 2006. Chasse, who lived with schizophrenia, had been a friend of Renaud’s, and Chasse’s death went beyond the personal tragedy. It brought Renaud’s work with the Mental Health Association of Portland, which he co-founded, into even greater focus toward addressing the actions and oversight of police officers, particularly as they interface with people experiencing mental illness. A police review found that the officers acted within policy. Chasse’s death is now the subject of a federal civil lawsuit brought by Chasse’s family.

Today, in the aftermath of the police shooting of Aaron Campbell and a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who shot him, Renaud is watching a familiar and tragic scenario repeat itself. Last year he declared his candicacy to run against Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Police Chief Rosie Sizer has announced some changes in police policy as a result of Campbell’s death, including bringing mental health workers along on crisis calls, and buying ballistic shields to protect officers when approaching people.

But neither of those efforts address officers’ behavior, how they coordinate their approach to people in crisis and how they’re trained to deal with these situations to ensure that someone doesn’t end up dead.

Israel Bayer: So let’s start with training. With every shooting in the past, regardless of which talking head, the message has basically been, it’s about the training. If you want us to do something different, train us different. So…

Jason Renaud: My problem is that with the training right now is that once a weapon has been seen or reported by a police officer, it’s likely at that point that someone is going to get hurt. That means the officer is trained to take action prior to the weapon being actually produced. It’s alarming because in many cases it’s a preemptive strike.

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What happened to James Chasse?

Today marks the third anniversary of the death of James Chasse at the hands of the Portland Police Bureau. The Mental Health Association of Portland, who is spearheading a documentary about the case, asked City Hall today to release the facts on the Police Bureau’s internal report. The organization also released a 4-page report titled: What Happened to James Chasse?

Dear Mayor Adams, Commissioner Saltzman, Chief Sizer,

Today marks the third anniversary of the death of James Chasse.

Attached is a petition, signed by over 250 persons, which asks for the immediate release of the Portland Police Bureau’s internal investigation of what happened to James Chasse, and a report of the status of what happened to James, and what happened after James died, collected by our organization.
Three years ago we began to track the documents and news articles about what happened to James Chasse, and how those responsible responded to his death.  What was revealed is silence, delay and obfuscation can be somewhat countered by community concern and an obstinate online presence.

So with no budget for public relations we decided to simply tell the truth over and over and over to anyone who would listen.  We posted all publicly-available documents online. We posted all the photographs, videotapes and audio material we could find.  We posted and linked to every news story written about James Chasse.

We knew our concerns would be put off by City Hall, there would be no criminal trial, the officers responsible would not be disciplined, and every bureaucratic response would be clouded in budgetary constraints. We knew our cause – transparency – would lose at every opportunity, except in the court of public opinion.

We were determined to tell the truth and not to forget.

Because the truth is James is not the first person with mental illness to be hurt by police officers, but he could have been the last. We’ve created a report of these changes for you and attached it to this letter.  The report gives a short list of the positive accomplishments we see as directly related to James Chasse’s death, changes by the Portland Police Bureau, by the City of Portland, by Multnomah County and by the Oregon State legislature.

What the City and County have done is significant and today worth noting. Portland is a safer community because positive changes have occurred.

But important action remains undone. Releasing the internal investigation will illustrate why the process the Police Bureau used to determine whether something was wrong with how Kyle Nice, Christopher Humphreys and Bret Burton killed James Chasse failed to bring justice.

What the internal investigation withholds is the result of the police Use of Force Committee, which met months ago in secret.  The Committee found the three officers followed their training and broke no rules and concluded none of the officers used excessive force.

According to the findings of the Grand Jury and Attorney General, they broke no rules and an innocent man is dead.  That finding is unacceptable.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

As you enter negotiations for a new contract with the police union this fall, you must find the capacity for a chief to discipline and terminate officers regardless of civil litigation.  Impunity is a corrupting influence and must be addressed quickly, directly and publicly.
Sincerely,

Roy Silberstein, President, Mental Health Association of Portland

James Chasse Status Report - September 2009(1)

James Chasse Status Report - September 2009(2)

James Chasse Status Report - September 2009(3)

James Chasse Status Report - September 2009(4)

Chasse case languishes alongside squandered progress

mhaplogo-1From the Sept. 4 edition of Street Roots.

As we approach the third anniversary of the death of James Chasse, there are several crucial questions still floating in legal and political limbo.

None is more vital than a long-overdue Portland Police Bureau internal investigative report on what happened to James Chasse.

We know some things, such as what happened to James: an innocent man, he was chased and attacked by three police officers who gave him a savage beating in front of dozens of witnesses. The officers then failed to inform the ambulance service of the beating, and who then, instead of taking him to a hospital, took the mortally wounded James on a meandering tour of town before eventually arriving at the downtown jail.

James died having suffered 16 broken ribs, a punctured lung, massive internal bleeding and 46 abrasions or contusions on his body, including six to the head and 19 strikes to the torso. Hogtied, in shrieking pain, he died a mere hour after his first contact with an officer. Continue reading

Officer’s shove puts Seattle man in coma

A Seattle man is in a coma  with a fractured skull after he was forcibly knocked into a wall by a sheriff’s deputy, who mistakenly thought the man was involved in a nearby bar fight.

The Seattle Times reports that Christopher Harris, 29, was pursued by officers in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood on May 10 because a witness identified Harris as having been involved in a bar altercation. Officers later determined that Harris had not been part of that incident.

To stop Harris, Sherriff’s Deputy Matthew Paul, 26, shoved him toward a concrete wall eight feet away. A surveillance video shows Harris’ head hitting the wall and Harris slumping over, unconscious.

The King County Sheriff’s Office says the force used on Harris was within legal boundaries, and the outcome is “a tragic accident.” A spokesman said officers had identified themselves to Harris, but Harris pulled a hoodie over his face and ran from them.

Harris has been unconscious since the incident and is listed in critical condition.

The sherriff’s office will continue to investigate whether the incident violated protocol, and the county prosecutor will decide whether it warrants criminal charges.

In Portland, the District Attorney recently declined to prosecute the officer who roughly tackled 42-year-old James Chasse during a stop in 2006. Chasse died in police custody with 26 fractured ribs and a punctured lung.

Posted by Mara Grunbaum

Alien boy trailer is out

According to filmmakers (and many Portlanders), “In September 2006 James Chasse was tackled by three law officers on a downtown street corner before a dozen eyewitnesses. James was not suspected of a crime, he had not committed a crime.

The officers beat him, kicked him, broke 17 ribs and his shoulder. They used a Taser on him repeatedly. He screamed for mercy. The officers thought James was a drug dealer, a homeless person, a non-person, a ghost. They were wrong. James was a poet, a musician, he had a family which loved him, friends, neighbors, dreams and hopes. He was an artist; a small, shy, gentle person. And he was a person with schizophrenia.

James was sent by paramedics to jail. Jail nurses refused to admit him. He died en route to a hospital in a police car driven by the same officers who had earlier beaten him. A grand jury refused to indict those officers. The City and County refused to terminate or discipline them. Alien Boy is a feature length documentary film about the life and death of James Chasse.”

Street Roots did a feature piece on the first stages of making Alien Boy in May of 2008. The trailer is out. 

Richard Harris takes on Oregon’s mental health and addictions division

Post Oct. 24, 2008

By Amanda Waldroupe
Contributing Writer

The Oregon office of Addictions and Mental Health Division is moving and shaking.
On September 12, it was announced that Richard Harris, 68, the retiring executive director of Central City Concern, would replace Bob Nikkel and serve as interim director of the division.

Tapping Harris to head the Addictions and Mental Health office, which is a division within the state’s Department of Human Services, is nothing short of bold: His admirers say Harris is perhaps the only person in the state who has the integrity and experience to tackle the challenges facing Oregon’s mental health and drug treatment systems.

Some of those challenges include a dilapidated state hospital that was taken through the wringer by an investigation conducted by the Department of Justice released in January of this year, determining the future of Cascadia after its April financial implosion, bolstering the state’s community health systems, and all in times of scarce financial resources.

Harris has a solution, one that he has found working for Central City Concern for 29 years.  The social service agency’s nationally recognized way of providing alcohol, addiction and mental health services—combining supportive services with housing in a supportive community—is a model he hopes to begin replicating at the state level.

Harris started the job on Monday, September 29.  In an interview with Street Roots, Harris talked about his plans for being interim director and some of the challenges he faces.

More after the jump. Continue reading