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Thursday, July 2, 2009

"GLAD U R OK N HE ISN'T." County Settles Stake In Chasse Case But Troubling New Details Emerge

Posted by Matt Davis on Thu, Jul 2, 2009 at 5:36 PM

"There is a lot of positive energy that has developed out of this tragedy," said Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler this morning, discussing the county's unanimous vote to settle the County's role in the death of James Chasse, jr for a record $925,000. Meanwhile, the Chasse family's attorneys filed documents yesterday in their ongoing case against the City of Portland that contain troubling new details.

Wheeler coupled the settlement vote with a more positive step by the county this morning: The decision to finally move forward on a sub-acute facility for those, like Chasse, who are in mental health crisis. Wheeler has drawn criticism from mental health advocates for the past two years for failing to move on the idea—a key recommendation of a committee formed by former mayor Tom Potter in the wake of Chasse's death.

"I think this is in the best interest of the community and the Chasse family, and it allows us to get beyond the legal issues in the case and move toward a better system of delivery for people in mental health crisis," said Wheeler.

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WHEELER (RIGHT) WITH COUNTY COMMISSIONER DEBORAH KAFOURY (LEFT): PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN CAMPBELL...

The new center is expected to open on East Burnside and MLK, on the second floor of the existing Hooper Detox Center, in late 2011. In the spring, the county gave Central City Concern $1million slated for the sub-acute facility to move the Hooper detox center to a new CCC building at the old Ramada Inn in the Rose Quarter by May 2010—thereby making space for an overhaul of the Hooper building. PDC has approved $75,000 in pre-development for the project, and has set aside $2million in its 2012-13 budget to cover the cost of the sub-acute center, said PDC government affairs specialist Keith Witcosky. Witcosky said PDC will "be as creative as we need" to cover the time lag between now and 2012, and hopefully move the money into this fiscal year so that work can begin as soon as possible. The county currently faces an $800,000 a year budget hole in opening the sub-acute facility, said county mental health director Joanne Fuller, but it hopes to plug the gap by working with the city, state, and CCC. "There is also the potential for stimulus dollars," said Fuller.

"I don't think a celebration is in order today," said Wheeler. "There's an opportunity here."

Wheeler said the new center, which is expected to house those in mental health crisis for up to 10 days while they stabilize, before moving them into housing through CCC, "is going to be effective, and cost effective, and I don't want to overlook the fact that it's humane."

If anyone were tempted to celebrate, they would have been sobered pretty quickly by further developments in the case. New documents filed yesterday by Chasse family lawyer Tom Steenson throw new light on it: State medical examiner Karen Gunson had previously explained broken ribs in Chasse's back from his fall to the ground. But since no evidence exists to suggest Chasse ever fell on his back, the deposition of Gunson contains a new concession: "Since there is no evidence that Chasse landed on his back when he was taken down to the concrete, and if he was struck in the left side, Gunson opines that it is more probable that his posterior left ribs were broken by a violent kick or knee drop than during the fall," says Steenson, in yesterday's document filed with the court. Here's Gunson's deposition:
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Gunson found 48 separate abrasions or contusions on Chasse's body, including 16 possible blows to the head.

The documents also include the deposition of Portland Police Bureau Officer Christopher Humphreys, which make it quite clear that Humphreys never saw Chasse urinate on the sidewalk—an alleged detail which has consistently been reported about the incident as a possible legal basis for the officers stopping Chasse. At most, Humphreys thought he saw Humphreys urinating in his pants because there was possibly a wet patch on his trousers, according to his deposition testimony. But the ground by his feet was completely dry.
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You can download the documents in their entirety here. Warning: File Ex2.pdf contains intense and disturbing autopsy images of Chasse.

Several witnesses described Chasse's screams during his encounter with police officers at the corner of NW 13th and Everett on September 17, 2006. "He seemed like a scared animal," said witness Melissa Jane Gaylord. Electrician Tony Lee Carter "thought [Chasse] was dead" for a period during which Chasse was unconscious on the sidewalk, following his beating.

Bike lawyer Mark Ginsberg, another witness said: "I did hear Mr.Chasse yelling mercy, mercy, mercy, and that was personally pretty sort of disturbing to me."

Witness Justin Soltani said he saw an officer sitting on Chasse. "He had his knees on him. He was crouching down on his back." Soltani also said during his deposition that "Mr.Chasse couldn't run. He was galloping. He was bouncing up and down, rather than, if I saw him run."

Chasse's trouble running is consistent with accounts by Chasse's old friends that he was hit by a TriMet bus in his youth and sustained leg injuries.

"There was clear vocal mocking, the mocking of Mr.Chasse's cries for help," said witness Randall Stuart:
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Portland Police Sergeant Kyle Nice radioed for backup saying Chasse was "unconscious" on the street corner, but never informed paramedics of the extent of force used or of Chasse's prolonged unconsciousness, according to the documents.

"NICE WORK BOYS. GLAD U R OK N HE ISN'T. I'LL DO THE AFTER ACTION WHEN I GET THE RPTS TONIGHT!" wrote Police Bureau Sergeant O'Keefe, in an in-car computer message to Sheriff's Deputy Bret Burton, after the event.

An expert witness, Lou Reiter, former deputy police chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, also testifies in a written statement that Officers Nice, Humphreys, and Sheriff's Deputy Burton did not follow police policies and practices in treatment of someone who is at least suspected of being mentally ill. Reiter described the officers' use of force as "unreasonable," and their failure to disclose the force used on Chasse as "unreasonable."

It is against the city attorney's policy to comment on ongoing cases.

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