This story comes courtesy of the Mental Health Association of Portland...
Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer has asked internal affairs investigators who reviewed the Sept. 17, 2006 death of James P. Chasse Jr. to go back and examine a newly-released and enhanced jailhouse video that captures officers’ earliest statements about what occurred.
The video, released by Chasse’s family attorney and shared with the city, appears to contradict at least one Portland officer’s earlier account.
“I have asked the Internal Affairs Division to review all statements made by every member of the Police Bureau to determine if it would be appropriate to open a new investigation,” Sizer said in a written statement. “If appropriate I will do so.”
There’s no doubt police knocked Chasse, a 42-year-old man suffering from schizophrenia, to the ground that night, and later struggled with him before he died in police custody.
But did officers involve “tackle” him in a “bear hug” as several witnesses, including one Portland sergeant, originally reported, or did one of the officers shove him and then fall onto the sidewalk without landing on top of him as that officer had told investigating detectives?
The newly released videotape of officers talking at the jail after they carried Chasse in that night captures Portland Officer Christopher Humphreys telling a sheriff’s deputy that “we tackled him” and Chasse landed “hard,” according to the video released Thursday by Portland Attorney Tom Steeson, the Chasse family attorney, and first made public by the Portland Tribune.
Humphreys’ statements at the jail, coming within an hour of the police confrontation with Chasse, appear to contradict the account Humphreys gave to Portland detectives in the police investigation three days later. Humphreys told Portland detectives he shoved Chasse down with both his forearms against Chasse’s back, adding “which, it says we trained to do on foot pursuits. ” Humphreys said he fell onto the sidewalk, past Chasse, according to police transcripts.
As Humphreys is heard talking to jail intake staff in the video, his partner, Deputy Bret Burton is seen illustrating a “bear-hug” stance, which is not how police are trained, and mimics the sound heard when Chasse’s body landed on pavement. In the jailhouse video, the two officers also can be heard telling the jail staff how the whole incident occurred in front of Blue Hour patrons, conjecturing while some were eating their steaks.
The 13-minute video ends with police and jail sheriff’s deputies hauling Chasse out of jail. Chasse can be heard loudly moaning with a so-called jail spitsock over his head. Chasse died as police were driving him to a hospital. He sustained 26 fractures early in his encounter with police and died from broad-based blunt force trauma to his chest, according to the state medical examiner’s office.
The video, which was enhanced by professionals to make the dialogue intelligible, likely will play a role in the pending federal civil rights lawsuit the Chasse family has filed against the city, police and county.
Jason Renaud, who knew Chasse and is a volunteer with the Mental Health Association of Portland, called the video “horrible.”
“It shows the callous and sarcastic character of the people in the video,” Renaud said. “It shows Jim in a lot of distress…He’s still hog-tied, with that degrading spitsock over his face, shrieking in pain and in fear. This looks just terrible for the city.”
Renaud said Humphreys shouldn’t be an officer.
A version of the jailhouse videotape had been examined during the police internal affairs investigation. Steenson had obtained that videotape from the county shortly after Chasse’s death through a public information request. But his office paid out-of-state professionals to enhance the audio and reduce the background noise so the dialogue between officers and jailhouse deputies could be audible. The city, during the course of the pending civil litigation, also had made video enhancements, but Steenson made further enhancements, and released the outcome to the media and the city this week.
“Our system of justice depends on a careful and complete presentation of the evidence before an unbiased jury,” City Attorney Linda Meng said, in a statement issued today. “We believe that selective release of potential evidence before trial is not consistent with this principle.”
A Multnomah County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing in the case. The police internal investigation to determine whether or not the officers acted according to policy went before a bureau use of force review board earlier this month, more than two years after Chasse’s death. The board’s recommendations have been sent to the police chief, who has not issued any decision.
Burton, who worked as a deputy for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the incident, was since hired by Portland police.
Humphrey’s initial and informal jailhouse account of what occurred supports witness statements provided early in the investigation.
The criminal investigation by Portland detectives also had revealed conflicting stories by the three officers involved.
Based on interview transcripts, Sgt. Kyle Nice told detectives he saw Humphreys grab Chasse in a “bear-hug-type” hold and tackle him to the ground, which is not what Portland police train officers to do. He said Humphreys fell on top of Chasse in the midback area. Burton told detectives he saw Chasse and Humphreys collide but wasn’t sure how they landed.