The family of James Chasse Jr. is suing the police officers as well as others it claims are responsible for his "inhumane and tortured death," the family's attorney announced last week.
Chasse's father, James Sr., sat silently in a blue bowtie alongside civil rights attorney Tom Steenson at a press conference at the World Trade Center on SW 2nd last Thursday, February 8. Chasse Sr. refused public comment to assembled TV, radio, and newspaper reporters.
"The family would prefer not to be here," said Steenson. "But they are."
The cops' "extreme, excessive, brutal, and deadly physical force" caused Chasse's death, according to the federal suit. Officers then deliberately ignored his injuries and encouraged others to do the same, discriminating against him because of his mental illness, the suit alleges.
Chasse was beaten and tasered until he was unconscious by two Portland Police Officers and a Sheriff's deputy on the sidewalk opposite the Blue Hour restaurant at NE 13th and Everett on September 17 of last year. The officers had spotted him urinating in the street. The incident was initially glossed over by local media until the Mercury obtained damning cell-phone pictures of the officers and paramedics casually standing by as Chasse lay hog-tied and seriously injured.
Instead of being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, Chasse was driven to jail in a police car, where he languished in a cell for over an hour until a jail nurse looked through his cell window and suggested he be driven to the hospital. He died en route.
"The officers engaged in a deliberate cover up of the brutal assault," said Steenson, alleging the officers lied to witnesses about finding cocaine on Chasse, and calling him a "transient" with "14 cocaine convictions"—despite finding only breadcrumbs and an ID card with his permanent address on it at the scene.
The newly formed Justice For James Chasse Jr. Committee (JFJC)—a group comprised of about 20 angry Portlanders, including representatives from the Albina Ministerial Alliance, the Mental Health Association of Portland, and Portland Copwatch, as well as personal friends of Chasse and various attorneys—has also come out in support of the suit, and is calling for the officers involved to be fired.
"The information the suit contains about the officers' behavior after James was beaten clearly shows they knew they had done something wrong, and attempted to justify their actions to witnesses and emergency workers," says JFJC spokesman Michael Bailey—a former criminal defense attorney who has argued in the Supreme Court. "We believe this evidence shows the officers were at best negligent and should be fired immediately before someone else is seriously injured."
The family's lawsuit also questions the validity of the state medical examiner's report, saying a second autopsy—paid for by the family—suggests injuries not registered in the initial report. Among these is a broken left clavicle, an injury probably "caused by a strike, a severe blow, most likely a kick," said Steenson.
In addition to the lawsuit, Steenson issued a two-page list of recommendations to the Police Bureau, demanding changes to prevent similar incidents happening again. The recommendations include prohibiting officers from using their hands and feet "to make impact strikes to a person's head and other vital areas," and changing foot pursuit policy so that officers only chase those posing a threat. "Some people might even get away, but they won't get hurt unnecessarily," Steenson said.
"There is no question that the number one question on the minds of this family is to get the Portland Police Bureau to make much needed changes," he added.
In addition to the officers involved, Portland Police Officers Christopher Humphreys and Kyle Nice, and Sheriff's deputy Bret Burton, the suit is filed against the unnamed paramedics who signed off on Chasse's injuries instead of sending him to the hospital at the scene. The fire department has refused to make their names public but will face a subpoena demanding their names.
"We have made more than 50 public records requests," said Steenson. "But a great deal of the information we can't get."
The suit also cites the Police Bureau, Portland Fire & Rescue, TriMet, American Medical Northwest—the county's medical services contractor—the City of Portland, and Multnomah County as defendants. None of those named in the suit—which does not specify damages sought—are commenting publicly.