Press release. More soon:
Portland City Auditor to Hire Expert to Evaluate the Portland Police Bureau’s Handling of the James Chasse Investigation:
Portland City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade has announced plans to hire a nationally-recognized expert to evaluate how the Portland Police Bureau handled the internal investigation of the 2006 in-custody death of James Chasse, including why it took nearly three years to complete. The Auditor’s Independent Police Review Division has the authority to contract for expert reviews of closed internal investigations of in-custody deaths or officer-involved shootings and will oversee the expert review of the Chasse case.
“The death of James Chasse while in police custody is a matter of ongoing concern for the community and for the Auditor’s Independent Police Review Division. Now that the investigation is closed, I want to move forward with an expert evaluation as soon as possible,” said Griffin-Valade. “It is the role and responsibility of my office to ensure an independent review of the Bureau’s investigation. The public and City officials need to know that the Chasse investigation was thorough, balanced, and unbiased,” she added.
The outside expert has yet to be selected, but the review will not be a re-investigation of the officers’ conduct or the facts surrounding Mr. Chasse’s death. Rather, the expert will evaluate the quality of the internal investigation, as well as the adequacy of the police policies that affected the actions of the officers. The Auditor’s Independent Police Review Division will release the final report to the public, elected officials, and the Chief of Police. The report will comment on improvements made by the Bureau since 2006 and will make any recommendations that emerge from the expert evaluation.
Update, 1:51: I've put all the responses to this news after the jump.
Mary-Beth Baptista, director of the IPR, says "The auditor is putting this forward. We want to be clear that this is not a reinvestigation of the Chasse case. It's a review of the investigation."
"This is what we've done in the past with the PARC report," says Baptista. "It's part of our ordinance that we review in-custody deaths and officer shootings. This is a unique case and we think that the Chasse case is of particular importance to the community and deserves its own report."
Assistant IPR Constantin Severe, City Auditor Lavonne Griffin Valade and Baptista had a conversation about the case a few months ago, says Baptista, "and what we were going to do, what our responsibilities were no matter what the outcome of the probe was." "This was something that we felt was the right thing to do."
"City council and the mayor have given us their strong support," says Baptista. She has also spoken with Police Chief Rosie Sizer and Portland Police Association president Scott Westerman this morning. We have requests in to Sizer and Westerman for comment.
"The chief under her leadership has created an atmosphere of transparency and has cooperated with us in the past," Baptista continues. "And we believe that she will cooperate with us on this."
Griffin-Valade is in "back to back meetings," according to a staffer, but we'll let you know when she calls back with a comment.
"It's amazing how little these people 'get it'," says Dan Handelman from Portland Copwatch. "If there's no re-investigation of the officers' conduct, it's an interesting exercise but only points out the toothlessness of IPR. Of course we'd like to see the policies reviewed, and to find out why the investigation took so long, but we also want to see the actual file released, and the officers taken off the streets."
"There are two separate issues here," says Jason Renaud with the Mental Health Association of Portland, which yesterday accused the city of "impunity" related to the inquiry. "The first issue is the city is still withholding the internal investigation about what happened to James Chasse. It has not been made public. This is a document about an in-custody death, deserves public scrutiny, and we asked for it September 17. There is no reason to withhold this document; the investigation is closed, the bureau has issued the investigation's 'findings' to the press, the officers are not in legal jeopardy, there is no concern for their security."
"The second issue is the city auditor may find a SNAFU in the Bureau's internal decision-making process. It's her job to figure that out and report," Renaud continues. "Our opinion is there's no substitute for the truth. The city should release the investigation immediately."
"I think it's a great idea," says Scott Westerman from the Portland Police Association. "I think there are a lot of people out there who feel disillusioned by the chief's decision because they think it's a whitewash, regardless of the information that's been put to them. This will show the investigation was thorough, complete, and that the chief's decision was based on sound judgment, rather than political influence or innuendo."
"We look forward to the expert review of this investigation," he says.
"The PPA is of course concerned about the apparent discipline for Sergeant Nice, because the information that we have suggests that this was a minor technical procedural violation for post-Taser use procedures, and that Sergeant Nice was following the direction of the medical crews on the scene. And what we're hearing of the proposed discipline for Sergeant Nice is that he is going to be getting 40 hours' suspension."
"We will fully cooperate with any contractor that is hired by the Auditor's Office to review this case," says Mary Wheat, from the Police Bureau. "We fully expected a review but thought it would come after the lawsuit was finished."