Tag Archives: Tom Steenson

That’s what she said — a look back on some notable quotables from Street Roots interviews in 2010

What’s more important — losing the lawsuit, or saving someone’s life down the road? And their reaction, historically, is always the same: Let’s worry about the lawsuit and not worry about public safety. Not only is it short-sighted, it’s just wrong. That’s not what the community wants. This is what the Police Bureau wants, the lawyers, the politicians. And it’s so short term, the gain, to try to avoid a bad result in a lawsuit. They didn’t avoid, from their point of view, a bad result in the Chasse lawsuit by keeping the truth away from the public and by not disciplining the officers. That’s not what public safety should be about.”

—   Tom Steenson, Attorney for the Chasse family, “Chasse’s champion,” November 12. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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!