Multnomah County will vote next week on whether to settle its portion of the James Chasse lawsuit for $925,000. As far as the Mercury can tell, that's a record high settlement in Portland for an excessive force/death in custody suit: The city paid $600,000 to the family of Damon Lowery in 2005 (he died in 1999 of asphyxiation by 6 cans of pepper spray and being stood on by a cop), and it paid $845,000 in an excessive force settlement to a collective of anti-Bush protesters in 2004.
The proposed settlement only covers Chasse's treatment at the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC), where he was taken by Portland Police Bureau officers Christopher Humphreys and Kyle Nice after his beating in September 2006. The city and American Medical Medical Response are yet to settle their portions of the case, covering the conduct of police officers and the ambulance company respectively.
Chasse was left in a holding cell at MCDC prior to booking, with a "spit sock" over his head. A jail nurse, Patricia Gayman, refused to admit Chasse to the main jail after looking through his holding cell window. She also failed to provide emergency medical care, the family alleged. Video of Chasse's jail booking, on which he can be heard screaming, and can be seen hog-tied, is here:
Chasse was subsequently taken to Adventist hospital across the Willamette River in a patrol car driven by Humphreys and Nice, but he died en-route. The state medical examiner found 26 rib fractures and that Chasse had died from "blunt force trauma to the chest." Multnomah County is also responsible for the behavior of former sheriff's deputy Bret Burton, who also beat Chasse on the sidewalk, and has since been hired by the Portland Police Bureau.
"The family of James Philip Chasse will have no comment until after the county board of commissioners votes on the matter next Thursday, July 2, 2009," said the Chasse family's attorney, Tom Steenson.
"I'm not surprised the county is looking to settle," says Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland. "The case looked very strong against them. I expect the city and the other parties to the case to settle quickly, in light of this latest development."
It's thought that the city attorney's office is facing considerable pressure from the Portland Police Association not to admit any wrongdoing on behalf of Portland Police Officers in the case. The Police Bureau instituted new training for police officers after Chasse's death.
Meanwhile, County Chair Ted Wheeler has released a statement on the proposed settlement. "It is personally important to me that we demonstrate that Jim Chasse’s death serves as a continuing reminder to us of the need to substantially improve the way the community responds to mental illness and build systems of support that can sustain recovery," wrote Wheeler, who now wants to move forward with the construction of a mental health crisis center.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!