Tom Steenson, the attorney representing the family of James Chasse Jr., held a news conference today that seized on the latest batch of internal documents in the 4-year-old case and accused the Portland Police Bureau of covering for the officers who beat Chasse and then failed to get him the medical help he needed before he died in custody.
"It was what looks to have been a concerted effort to cover this up that killed him," Steenson told the Mercury. "Had he been transported to the hospital"—directly after he was tackled on a Pearl District sidewalk—"he would have lived. ...
"Why are these guys still working? The message is this is OK. And it's not."
Chasse, 42 at the time of his death, was suffering from schizophrenia. Before his death September 17, 2006, his family had expressed concern about his health to authorities. His family settled the case with the city for $1.6 million.
Read on to learn more about Steenson's claims.
Since then, thousands of pages of internal documents have been released. Steenson's claims are based in part on those documents, including the police bureau's internal affairs investigation. They also are based on previous depositions in the case. Steenson accuses the officers in Chasse's death, Chris Humphreys and Kyle Nice, of keeping quiet about his medical condition in hopes of avoiding punishment for their actions. He also says the cops tried to plant bogus drugs on Chasse and falsely told witnesses he was homeless.
A training review released this summer found that the officers had violated bureau policy both by chasing Chasse and then by tackling him when they finally caught up to him. Previous reports also have laid out the dismal lack of communication with paramedics and first responders over Chasse's medical condition.
Steenson said that while the case is closed, he hoped he would shame the city into preventing another death like Chasse's. He also said it's possible the federal Department of Justice could look into the case, but said Chasse's family hasn't asked for that yet.
Others in the community, however, are. The Rev. Chuck Currie released this statement after the news conference.
As one of the clergy who conducted the memorial for James Chasse, I am sickened by the information released today by Chasse family lawyers that clearly shows the Portland Police Bureau's own actions led to Mr. Chasse's death. The fact that the officers - including Officer Humphreys - are still on the force should be concerning to all Portlanders. There is reason to believe there is corruption within the ranks of the Portland Police and that City Hall has helped to protect the officers involved. Either the Oregon Department of Justice or the U.S. Department of Justice need to launch a wide-ranging investigation into the Bureau's activities.